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Employment law

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Employee worker and self-employed status

Employee and workers rights and duties

Employee liability insurance

Vicarious liability

Employment contract

Special categories of employee and worker

Detailed employment law topics

  Recruiting and hiring

  Contracts of employment and working hours
  Pay (Minimum) and payoll
  Statutory leave and time off
  Trade unions and workers rights
   Dismissing staff and redundancies
and TUPE


This section is designed to be read as a supplement to the guidance given by the "Employing People" section of GOV.UK . We aim to provide an introduction to employment law and to supplement the topics covered by GOV.UK.

These pages are not intended as a comprehensive guide to employment law but will provide an overall guide and checklist, and pointers to where further information is available.

Employment regulation has gained a reputation for being burdensome and complex, much of these features being caused by the malign influence of EU law. Yet employment regulation is manageable for SMEs if they have a basic understanding of the law, know where to look up the detail and are organised properly.

Employment law is basically the same throughout the UK, though there are some differences. The Employment Rights Act 1996 is the main piece of legislation applying to England, Scotland and Wales; for Northern Ireland, similar legislation is contained in the Employment Rights (Northern Ireland) Order 1996.

Employed, worker and self-employed status

Before the advent of EU law rights for 'workers',  the fundamental distinction had to be made between employees and the self-employed.  This distinction is important because a self-employed person does not have the same rights and duties as an employee at common law  or under UK employment protection law. The distinction is also important for the purposes of tax law.

However, since the introduction of EU laws and the adoption of minimum wage rates in respect of  'workers', this is an additional distinction to be made. In the relevant legislation, 'workers' are generally defined as  workers who provide their services personally to an employer and who are not carrying on a profession or business on their own account.. e se terms are used in the employment law context. Which category a person falls into will determine the type of contract which applies and the rights and duties of the individual and the employer.

In this section we use the term “employer” to mean the person engaging the services of the individual whether or not the latter is actually an employee.

There is no single legal test that can be applied to decide whether a person is an employee. The courts have developed criteria to determine whether an employment exists.

The label attached to a relationship or contract will not determine its treatment in law. A common device used to avoid the creation of an employment relationship is to call the worker an “independent contractor” and to insert in the contract a right for the contractor to delegate another person to do the work, perhaps subject to restrictions, and/or to allow flexibility about how or when the work is done.

Special categories of workers

This subject is dealt with in more detail in Employment status, contracts of employment and working hours.

Employee liability insurance

An employer carying on business in the UK must carry insurance cover in respect of injury and disease for all employees for an amount per claim of not lesss than £5 million. Failure to do so is an offence. See:Insurance

Comment: oddly, the legislation does not as yet cover freelancers or workers not categorise as employees. However it may well be prudent to obtain such cover.

Vicarious liability


‘Vicarious’ liability is the legal liability a person (the principal) has for the tortious acts or wrong doing of another person (agent) for whom the principal ought to be responsible. The principle has been developed by the courts as part of the common law of the three UK jurisdictions and developed from the law of agency.

According to the principle of vicarious liability, an employer will be liable for the wrongful acts of his employee if the acts were committed in the course of the employee's duties.

To determine whether a principal/employer is vicariously liable for the wrongdoing of his agent/employee, the courts have developed a to stage test:

* Stage 1: What is the relationship between the employer and the wrongdoer?;

* Stage 2: Is there a sufficiently close connection between the relationship and the wrong?

In the recent twenty years or so been a trend to expand the scope of both stages of the test. “The law of vicarious liability is on the move”: so stated Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers in the Christian Brothers case (Various Claimants v Catholic Child Welfare Society [2012] UKSC 56).

However, two recent Supreme Court judgments appear to have halted this trend:

Barclays Bank plc (Appellant) v Various Claimants (Respondents);

W M Morrison Supermarkets plc (Appellant) v Various Claimants (Respondents) [2020] UKSC 12


What can an employer do about vicarious liability?

The answer to this question is not very much directly as it is a rule of law. However the risk of liability may be mitigated by:

* staff training;

* clearly defined rules of conduct;

* insurance to cover vicarious liability: see Insurance

The subject is dealt within our section on Torts and Vicarious liability.

Employee and worker rights and duties

Employment rights and duties derive both from the contract of employment and from employment legislation.

The statutory rules are dealt with in the following sections of this subject:

Equality and equal pay

Recruiting and hiring
Contracts of employment and working     hours
Statutory leave and time off
Trade unions and workers rights
Dismissing staff and redundancies

Statutory regulations may prescribe detailed terms of employment including pay scales for certain employees in the public sector, e.g. teachers in the maintained schools sector. The contract may incorporate terms of employment by reference, e.g. to collectiver terms agreed by an employer with a union. Thus both sources must always be borne in mind when dealing with employees.

Employment contract

An employment contract is not required by law to be written. At common law certain terms are implied into an employment contract, such as the employee's duty of fidelity and the employer's duty of mutual respect. Employment law does not technically require a full written contract of employment to be supplied to an employee.
However, an employer must provide the employee within two months of starting with a statement of employment particulars; i.e. a note of certain prescribed terms of the employment.


Legaleze comment: it is always advisable to prepare a well drafted contract whether for a true employment or another type of relationship for work. In our view, even for junior employees, it is better to provide a full contract setting out all the terms and conditions. Many standard terms and conditions may be included by reference to a separate document, such as a staff manual.

For senior and some specialist employees, special provisions may be necessary or desirable in a contract of employment. These include:

* intellectual property clauses
* confidentiality
* “Garden leave"
* post termination restrictions on soliciting employees, customers and competing

Choice of law and jurisdiction clauses may be appropriate where an employee is based out of England and Wales.

See Contracts of employment and working hours for further details. Legal advice should preferably be taken before preparing employment contracts. For further advice, contact us.

Special categories of employees and other workers

Regardless of the content of the contract, UK law gives rights to certain special categories of employees including:

* Fixed-term employees;

* Part-time employees

There are also certain categories of workers who may or may not be employees in the legal sense but who may have certain rights under the law including:

* Agency workers;

* Workers entitled to the National Minimum Wage;

* Employee shareholders;

* Apprentices;

* Young workers and children;

* Au pairs

* Interns and (unpaid work experience persons

For further information on the above categories of employees and workers, see Contracts of employment and working hours.

Detailed employment law topics

The following topics are covered in the "Employing People" section of GOV.UK. If Legaleze offers further information on one of these topics, you will find it by clcking on the link:

Recruiting and hiring

Employing staff for the first time and employee liability insurance
Child work permit (England and Wales)
Disclosure and Barring Service (formerly Criminal Records Bureau)
Employers' responsibilities: equality monitoring
Employers: preventing discrimination
Employment rights for interns
Ex-offenders and employment
National Minimum Wage
Penalties for employing illegal workers
Reasonable adjustments for disabled workers
Recruitment and disabled people
UK visa sponsorship for employers
Using a recruitment agency to find staff

Contracts of employment and working hours

Employment contracts
Contract types and employer responsibilities
Employment status
Continuous employment
Fixed-term employment contracts
Flexible working
Employers: preventing discrimination
Maximum weekly working hours
Part-time workers' rights
Overtime: rights
Sunday working
Employer relocation: your rights
Night working hours
Rest breaks at work
Workplace bullying and harassment


Running your business' payroll
Calculate tax on company cars
Introduction to expenses and benefits for employers
National Minimum Wage calculator
Employers' responsibilities: equality monitoring
What you must do as a Construction Industry Scheme (CIS) subcontractor
What you must do as a Construction Industry Scheme (CIS) contractor
What is the Construction Industry Scheme (CIS)?
What to do when an employee dies
Get a dispensation for reporting non-taxable expenses and benefits
Make child maintenance deductions from an employee's pay
Minimum wage for different types of work
National Insurance Contributions (NICs) for your employees
National minimum wage: accommodation
Report a company car to HMRC
Tax and Employee Share Schemes


Combined pension statement

Statutory leave and time off

Calculate holiday entitlement
Holiday entitlement
Statutory Maternity Pay and Leave: employer guide
Ordinary Statutory Paternity Pay and Leave: employer guide
Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) - employer guide
Employee rights when on leave
Additional Paternity Pay and Leave: employer guide
Calculate your agricultural worker holiday entitlement
Career breaks
Employers' maternity and paternity calculator
Giving staff time off for jury service
Giving staff time off for magistrate duty
Parental leave
Statutory Adoption Pay and Leave - employer guide
Time off for family and dependants
Time off work for employment hearings or tribunals
Time off work for public duties
Training and study at work: rights
Travel disruption and work

Trade unions and workers rights

Rights of trade union reps
Employers: preventing discrimination
Retirement age
Being taken to an employment tribunal by an employee
Agricultural workers' rights
Being monitored at work: workers' rights
If your business faces industrial action
Personal data an employer can keep about an employee
Pregnant employees' rights
Reasonable adjustments for disabled workers
Recruitment and disabled people
Training and study at work: rights
Working with trade unions: employers
Workplace bullying and harassment

Dismissing staff and redundancies

Calculate your employee's statutory redundancy pay
Handling staff resignations
Handling an employee's grievance
Being taken to an employment tribunal by an employee
Taking disciplinary action against an employee
Dismissing staff
Making staff redundant
Solve a workplace dispute
Transfer of Undertakings Regulations ('TUPE')

What's new [see What's new page or archive for full item]:

[Page updated:27/04/2020]



More information>
Recruiting and hiring

Contracts of employment and working     hours
Pay (Minimum) Payroll
Statutory leave and time off
Trade unions and workers rights
Dismissing staff and redundancies