Employment Law in the UK

Employment law governs the legal rights, requirements and protections of employees and employers. It protects employees from discrimination and ensures that they receive fair treatment, such as pay, holiday leave and sick leave.


Wage and hour laws dictate whether an employer must pay minimum wage, overtime or other wages, and if the company may fire employees for certain reasons, such as refusing to work night shifts.

ERA 1996

The Employment Rights Act 1996 (ERA) refurbished, amended or agglomerated many previous fundamental labour laws. It was an Act passed by the British Government that put individual employee rights into statutory law, replacing previous legislation such as the Contracts of Employment Act 1963, the Redundancy Payments Act 1965, the Employment Protection Act 1975 and the Wages Act 1986.

It was also this Act that enshrined in statutory law the right for an employer to give a worker a written statement of their terms and conditions on Day 1. While this had previously been a common practice in the workplace, it was now legally required and a breach of the ERA would carry a fine for the business.

The ERA also affirms regulations regarding unfair dismissal, and the procedure for making redundancies, among other issues. In addition, the ERA makes it illegal to discriminate on the grounds of sex or marital status, and the right to request flexible working is protected by this Act. Lastly, the ERA protects workers whose employer goes bankrupt, and compensates them for lost earnings through National Insurance payments.

The Working Time Regulations 1998

The Working Time Regulations (WTR) implement an EU directive on working hours in the UK and provide workers with the legal right to certain rest breaks and paid holidays. In addition, the WTR sets a maximum weekly working time limit of 48 hours (excluding overtime) for adult employees.

The regulations also cover the minimum wage and holiday entitlements for young people. However, the WTR does not apply to workers who are self-employed or in a genuinely independent contract of service. This includes freelancers, agency workers and contractors.

Regulations 4 to 17 confer a range of rights on workers which are enforceable by proceedings in an employment tribunal. These rights include a legal right to a rest period during every 24 hours worked, a legal right to a longer rest break in each working week or fortnight and a legally enforceable right to paid holiday leave.

However, the regulations have a number of exemptions which allow workers to opt out of these rules. These include professions with peaks of activity in seasonal industries, shift work and night work. Additionally, the provisions in the WTR regarding night and shift patterns appear to have a greater impact on health, printing and retail than on other sectors such as financial services, for example. Nevertheless, it is important to consider the impact of these exemptions on your business when implementing changes to working practices.

The Agency Workers Regulations 2010

The Agency Workers Regulations 2010 (AWR) is the latest piece of legislation designed to protect the rights of temporary agency workers. It imposes various requirements on both the agencies and hirers.

The key requirement is that the basic working and employment conditions of an agency worker must match those of a permanent employee doing the same or broadly similar work. This includes salary, overtime or commission payments, rest breaks and holiday entitlement. However, it excludes company sick pay, maternity / paternity leave, adoption pay and pension contributions. Also excluded are bonuses or incentive payments not directly attributable to the amount of work performed.

Where an agency worker claims they have been treated unfairly in relation to their day 1 or 12 week rights then they can complain to the Employment Tribunal. Both the agency and hirer can be held liable for any breach of these regulations to the extent that they were responsible.

A number of our clients have started to review how the AWR will impact upon their costs and practices, including whether they should try to ensure that agency workers never reach the 12 week qualifying period (easier in theory than in practice) or consider other ways of meeting their flexible labour needs such as using self-employed contractors or managed service contracts. In some cases, such arrangements may involve additional intermediaries such as professional employer organisations or umbrella companies, in which case the AWR will apply to them as well.

The Equality Act 2010

The Equality Act 2010 (EA) is a law that protects people from discrimination, harassment and victimisation in the workplace. It also places an obligation on businesses to put in place ‘reasonable adjustments’ for people with disabilities. It supersedes several separate anti-discrimination acts, including the Race Relations Act, Disability Discrimination Act and Sex Discrimination Act. It applies to all private and public bodies that provide a service to the public, regardless of whether they charge for it or not. This includes charities, community organisations, statutory and local authority services as well as private and voluntary sector businesses.

It’s illegal to discriminate against someone on the basis of a number of specific characteristics, known as protected characteristics. These include age, sex, religion or belief, pregnancy and maternity and disability. It’s also illegal to treat someone less favourably than another person because of one of these characteristics, even if it doesn’t affect their job performance.

It is important to be aware of the different types of discrimination, as it could result in a tribunal claim. It is possible to make a claim for discrimination over an extended period of time, and it’s usually best to speak with a specialist as soon as you can. This is where EW Group can help. We’ve helped countless companies and individuals understand their rights and obligations under the Equality Act.