Employee Law and Relations in the United Kingdom

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In the United Kingdom labor relations dates back to the time of the industrial revolution which ushered the implementation of laws that govern the relationship between employers and employees. Under the Employment Rights Act workers in Britain are guaranteed of certain rights and benefits which they accrue upon the acquisition the title employee. An employee is a person who is gainfully engaged in employment where they attract a certain wage. As official recognition of employment status the law requires that all employees in Britain sign a written agreement which contains the terms of employment. This becomes an official proof that the person is now an employee. When a person gains this status he or she becomes the beneficiary of employee rights. These rights guarantee that an employee play a significant role in determining the application of labor laws in Britain. Therefore, in the United Kingdom’s labor relations an employee is a very significant party.

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As a requirement of the law, any employee who wishes to sue any firm for any wrongful dismissal must have proof of evidence that he or she is indeed an employee of that company. As such this brings into sharp focus the law pertaining to employment and contacting of employees. Under the Employment Rights Act of 1996 all employees have a number of rights in their respective workplace including the terms of contract (Judiciary n.d.). The Act has different terminologies in reference to a person in gainful employment. These include “worker, employee, jobholder, apprentice or someone with an employment relation” (Judiciary n.d). Despite the fact that the UK does not prescribe any single statute that determines which particular employee’s rights apply, many of the European Union nations use the terms that describe employee in different domains. However, as reflected in Lawrie-Blum v Land Baden-Württemberg, the European Union officially recognizes two terms; ‘employee’ and ‘worker’ as a person who has entered into any type of contract in return for a wage (European Court of Justice n.d.).

To enter into this contract means that there has to be a pre-agreed terms of employment. Under the Employment Rights Act, an employee is given the right to a written declaration of their terms of employment. This constitutes the employment contracts. As such it is the duty of every employee to request for a written document that clearly spells out the terms of that engagement up to and including the terms of termination of that employment. The employment contract must be equal to the minimum requirements of the Employment Rights Act of 1996, if not better (UK Government 2004). This means that upon wrongful dismissal the employee will use the document referred to as employment contract as valid proof that they have been indeed employees of that company. It further means that within this document a person who is in any gainful employment cannot claim to be a worker, employee apprentice or jobholder if they do not produce such a document.

A number of cases have put the terms of employment issues into perspective. Under the French v Barclays Bank plc case, employees’ term of employment are any obligations that an employer promises an employee upon employment, and which are explicitly stated in the employment contract (Open Law 1998). All the promised obligations should follow the basic statutory requirement and must be taken as such. However, there are other additional implied terms within the employment contract. These implications guarantee an employee certain provisions for the duration within which the employee will be working for that specific employer. In this regard, implied terms are used to describe additional obligations that employer have towards their employees. These additional obligations include a safe working environment, a minimum remuneration package, even when the employer does not have any work or duty to allocate to the employee under contract as well as paid maternity leave (HMRC 2011). Such other implied terms of engagement refer to discrimination at the work place, disclosure of information and wrongful termination of the employment. Under the Employment Rights Act the employer is legally bound to provide all the promises made to the employee together with the obligations of the implied terms (HMRC 2011).

Despite the fact that the provision of the implied terms are up held on matter of good faith and not necessarily a legal requirement, any denial to the employee (of implied obligation) may result in legal action against the employer. The implied terms of employment are potential areas of conflict since they are upheld on the premise of good faith. As such the application of implied obligation is left to the subjective determination (by the employee) of whether the employer is of good faith. Furthermore, within the judicial circles, the matter of how implied obligations is interpreted has generated conflict, with judges not in agreement on how the implied terms can, and should be contracted out. However as explained in Mahmud and Malik v Bank of Credit and Commerce International SA case, the House of Lords contends that all parties involved have a free will to get out of contract especially on matter touching on implied obligation (House of Lords 1998). This is not conclusive because as the judges contend, the judiciary has the competence to determine the contracting elements of the implied obligations. In this case the employee becomes significant as it is within the employees’ interpretations of the application of those implied obligation that conflict arises.

Still pertaining to the terms of employment and the employment contract, Cresswell v Board of Inland Revenue reflect that the UK labor laws have a definite description of the employer-employee relations (Todd 1997). Within the UK labor laws, an employee has the obligation to follow the employer. This implies that the relationship between these two parties is modeled along the master servant relationship. The Cresswell v Board of Inland Revenue case further brought to fore the fact that employees have the right to vary the terms of employment in regard to the changing nature of business provided the changes are not in contravention to the Employment Rights Act. Rigby v Ferodo Ltd concurs but further explains that the employee must willfully accept the changes (Industrial Law Journal 1995). This means that employers cannot impose any changes within the terms of employment without consulting with employees, whereas employees agree to the terms without coercion. In this regard an employee becomes significant in determining the extent to which the terms of employment are changed. Any person who qualifies to be referred to as an employee (by the virtual of entering into a written employment agreement) has the right to claim involvement into any form of negotiation regarding any changes in the terms of employment.

As explained earlier, matters of employment contract that focuses on implied terms are up held on good faith but can have a legal implication depending on their interpretation. This assertion can be analyzed Vis a Vis the terms of terminating an employment. In the UK, the labor laws are explicit on differentiating wrongful and unfair dismissals. While wrongful dismissal is any act that are unjustified on the breach of employment contract by the employer, unfair dismissal is the claim of unreasonable dismissal of an employee. It is within the scope of unfair dismissal that the implied terms apply and in the process, they generate conflict between employees and employers. Under the Employee Rights Act an employee is dismissed if the employer breaks mutual trust and confidence with the employee (UK Government 2004). This has severe legal implications for both the employer and the employee. This is reflected in Kwik-Fit (GB) Ltd v Lineham, a case in which Mr. Lineham walked off after being reprimanded by his employer in front of other staff members. The court ruled in favor Mr Lineham, who had argued that he had been unfairly dismissed, by the virtue of the fact that his employer had broken the trust and confidence in him (Law Society 2011). In this regard employers are bound by law to issue a reasonable claim for dismissal to subject employee.

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If the employee proves that he or she was unfairly dismissed, the employer is heavily liable to compensate the employee for damages caused. As such employees (such as Mr Lineham) become very significant in determining not only the reasons for dismissal from his employment, but also on the way employer treat their employees. This highlight the need for employer to have an extremely fair practice of dismissing their employees, and in this regard employees can only be dismissed for unprofessional reasons and not personal reasons as it was argued in Kwik-Fit (GB) Ltd v Lineham. Additionally, The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service ethic code which was reformulated in 2009, explains the need to have a procedural process, which regulates employee dismissal. These includes warning to the offending employee, a fair hearing in case of conflict with a possible union representations of the employee and including of other penalties such punitive leave, fines among others. Dismissal is usually the last option (ACAS 2011). Any dismissal process that does not follow this procedure is automatically considered unfair and the employer is heavily liable for such unprofessional action. Therefore, an employee’s interpretation of implied obligation becomes significant in determining labor relations.

One of the potential causes of employment conflicts in the UK and the entire European Union are the Health and Safety issues. As a major requirement of the law, which is also part of the employment terms of contract, employers are required to guarantee that they will provide safe systems and environments of work. Since the period of industrial revolution in Britain hazardous environments have been targets for legislation. A series of Factories Acts have been implemented to protected worker from work place hazards. These hazardous are concerned with employee cleanliness, ventilation, protection from faulty equipment among others. Such Acts include Employer’s Liability (Defective Equipment) Act of 1969 which regulate the use of equipment within factories. Under this law employer are liable for any damage that employee incurs from using faulty facilities, whether supplied by third parties or not. Since employers may not have the technical skills as well as the time and expertise to take legal action on any matter relating to damages caused by fault equipment is handled by a set of expert inspectors or agent bodies before it is brought before the court. Latest versions of Employer’s Liability (Defective Equipment) Act include the Health and Safety at Work, et cetera. Under the Act of 1974, local authorities within the UK have the mandate to inspect and regulate workplace environment. Furthermore, those local authorities can guarantees have the power to demand for changes in workplace environment. Within this cat, the employee plays a significant part in determining the nature of the work environment. Section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work Act of 1974.b requires that employees elect their own committees whose work is to work with employers to ensure that the relevant health and safety workplace issue are addressed by their employer (UK Government 2004). This means that employee can codetermine (with employer) health and safety management

The Right of Participation is another cause of employee dispute that does arise in work places. Out of the 27 member states of the European Union, 19 of them guarantee employee participation rights especially in determining matter related to accommodation, dismissals, access to social facilities as well as time of working (Weiss 2004). Within the UK, UK company law guarantees that employees will have a significant level of involvement and participation alongside the company’s share holders (European Union Law 2001). Under the Companies Act of 2006, the law defines member as any body who is listed under the company memorandum and who have voting rights. This means that most of the employees under this law do not have direct rights of participations. However, there are some instances within which employees have direct rights of participations. These include, as explained earlier in the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, the health and safety issues, and secondly the right to determine the reinvestment of employee pensions. While the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 requires that employee set their own committees to work with company’s management on matters concerning health and safety at the work place sections 241-243 of the Pensions Act 2004 require that employees constitute at least a third of the management of the particular occupation pensions scheme (UK Government 2004).

Within the UK as well as the European Union, employees have the inalienable rights to company information. This implies that employers must disclose to employees information regarding their business. Under the UK statutory law employers are required to make available to employees information regarding the nature of the business they are doing. This requirement is contained in the Information and Consultation of Employees Regulations of 2004 which requires that every firm with more than 50 employees make available information regarding the firm’s economic activities. Furthermore, the firms are also required to, in advance, inform the employees of any business issues such as redundancies that might affect employees (UK Government 2004). This means that the management of any company must first, before making any economic change in their company policy, inform the employees of those changes and the effects that they changes might have on the employees.

Furthermore, the firm is required to make available annual reports to employees. Within this report is to be contained information on how the firm has fulfilled its duties and responsibilities towards its employees. On their part employees have a right to use that information as the company provide in pursuit of their employee rights, including participation rights, as explained earlier, as well as joint negotiation with the firm in any matter the employee deem the company to have violated its promises. Furthermore, employees have the right to use such information as provided by the company to instigate issues of policy changes especially regarding matters that affect employees. The Information and Consultation of Employees Regulations of 2004 was tested in the Stewart v Moray Council Case in which the council was required to enter into direct consultation and renegotiations what employees on how information was to be shared (Practical Law 2008). In this regard employees, as exhibit in Stewart v Moray Council, are significant in determining how information is passed from employer to employee as well as how negotiation are done regarding sharing of the company information.

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Labor laws in the UK are explicit on the nature of relations regarding employer and employees. Within the Employment Rights Act is contained all elements within which conflict may arise. The law recognizes the significance of the employees in determining the extent of the application of labor laws in the UK. Since these laws guarantee that employees have rights and the employers are liable for application of those rights employee becomes somewhat of a watchdog, and may sue the employer if those rights are violated. Therefore, employees play a very significant role on the achievement professionalism in labor relations.

Reference List

ACAS. 2011. Promoting employment relations and HR excellence. Web.

European Court of Justice. n.d. Lawrie-Blum v. Land Baden-W[Entity]rttemberg. Web.

European Union law. 2001. Council Directive 2001/86/EC of 8 October 2001 supplementing the Statute for a European company with regard to the involvement of employees. Web.

HMRC. 2011. Statutory maternity leave – salary sacrifice and non-cash benefits. Web.

House of Lords. 1998. Judgments – Malik v. Bank of Credit and Mahmud v. Bank of Credit. Web.

Industrial Law Journal. 1995. Unilateral variation of terms: rights and Remedies. Industrial Law Journal. Web.

Judiciary. n.d. Relevant sections from the Employment Rights Act 1996. Web.

Law Society. 2011. Employment; unfair dismissal — Kwik-Fit (GB) Ltd v Lineham The Law Gazette. Web.

Open Law. 1998. England and Wales court of appeal (civil division) decision. Web.

Practical Law. 2008. Stewart v Moray Council Case Number IC/13(2007). Web.

Todd, P. 1997. Cresswell v. Board of Inland Revenue. Web.

UK Government. 2004. Terms and conditions of employment. Web.

Weiss, M. 2004. Handbook on employee involvement in Europe. London: Kluwer.

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