1. Minimum working conditions
Employers have extensive obligations to safeguard the health, safety and welfare of all of their employees under both common law and statute. These obligations include:
- A common law duty to have regard to employees’ safety.
- An obligation to consult with elected trade union safety representatives, or where there is no trade union, to establish a means of consultation with employees.
- Vicarious liability for accidents caused by employees who are acting in the course of their employment.
- A duty of care owed to employees and other visitors to the premises that the employer occupies.
- An obligation to prepare a written health and safety policy.
- An obligation to give health and safety representatives facilities and time off for training.
- An obligation to maintain insurance against liability for bodily injury or disease sustained by employees through their employment in the UK.
- A requirement to report accidents, injuries, diseases and dangerous occurrences.
Employers must pay employees and workers at least the National Minimum Wage (“NMW”). There are four hourly rates for the national minimum wage, the top rate currently being £6.31 (for workers aged 21+). Employees who are not paid the NMW can bring a claim before the employment tribunal. It is a criminal offence for employers wilfully to refuse to pay the NMW.
Employers can only make deductions from wages if the deduction is required by statute (for example deductions for income tax), the employee has expressly authorised the deduction or the deduction is provided for by a term of the employment contract.
Men and women have the right to be paid the same for the same, or equivalent, work. Where they are paid at different rates, an employee can bring an equal pay claim and the employer must prove that the reason for this is not gender-related, or be able to objectively justify this. Any equal pay award will be made up of:
- compensation of arrears of pay plus interest, limited to 6 years; and
- revised contractual terms, including remuneration terms, so that they are, in the future, the same as that of the person of the opposite sex doing the same work.
3. Maximum working week
Workers’ hours of work are regulated by the Working Time Regulations 1998 (“WTR”). Workers may not work, on average, for more than 48 hours per week (normally calculated over a 17-week reference period). In the UK employers can ask workers to consent, in writing, to opt-out of the 48-hour weekly working limit. However, workers must have the right to cancel their opt-out by up to three months’ notice at any time. The WTR also provides the right to daily, weekly and in-work rest periods.
Employees and workers are entitled to 5.6 weeks’ paid annual leave (pro-rated for part-timers). This holiday entitlement can include public holidays, of which there are currently eight in England and Wales.
Statutory holiday entitlement under the WTR cannot normally be carried over into the following year, nor can workers be paid in lieu of taking statutory holiday, except on termination of employment.
Employers are required to pay Statutory Sick Pay (“SSP”) to employees who are off work due to illness or injury, after the third day of absence (subject to certain qualifications). The current rate of SSP is £86.70 per week from April 2013, for a maximum of 28 weeks. Employers often supplement SSP with contractual sick pay for a specified period.