5 key employment laws every employer should know in 2021


Over the last two years, there have been changes to employment law, so it’s important your employment contracts are up to date with the latest legislation.

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    I think it’s safe to say that many business owners have learnt this year that not having an adequate understanding of employment law can have huge repercussions for a business.

    While you can’t expect everyone at your company to be experts in law (that’s what we’re here for!), there are some basics to make sure you’re aware of.

    Over the last two years, there have been changes to employment law introduced from national minimum wage to new maternity and paternity legislation, so it’s important your employment contracts are up to date with the latest legislation.

    1. Employment Rights Act 1996

    This Act covers areas such as unfair dismissal, redundancy payments, protection of wages, zero-hour contracts, Sunday working, suspension from work, flexible working and termination of employment.

    • Employees are entitled to Statutory Redundancy Pay if they’ve worked for their employer for two years or more, the amount is dependent on the age of the worker.
    • Zero-hours workers are entitled to annual leave, rest breaks and the National Minimum Wage. Employers can’t stop a zero-hours worker from getting work elsewhere.
    • A worker can’t be made to work on Sundays unless they agreed it with their employer and put it in writing. An employee can opt out at any time by giving at least three months’ notice, the employer cannot reject this notice.
    • Employees have the right to be paid Statutory Sick Pay on the fourth consecutive day of their absence onwards, they have no right to any pay for the first three days.
    • Employers must consider requests for flexible working conditions from eligible employees with at least 25 weeks’ service.
    • All employees are entitled to a notice period if they’ve worked for their employer for more than one month.
    • Most employees are entitled to keep their jobs when a business changes hands and ownership is transferred.

    2. National Minimum Wage Act 1998

    This Act sets out the minimum amount of pay a worker is entitled to per hour. The wage is based on a workers’ age and there is a legal requirement for employers to pay workers the national minimum wage. The government regularly reviews this to keep it in line with inflation.

    • Employees aged 23 and over must be paid the National Living Wage of £8.91 an hour (from April 2021).
    • The National Minimum Wage for staff aged 21 to 23 is £8.36 an hour, for employees aged 18 to 20 it’s £6.56 per hour, and £4.62 for those aged 16 and 17.
    • Apprentices under the age of 19, or older than 19 but in the first year of their apprenticeship, must be paid at least £4.30 per hour.
    • Service charges, tips, gratuities and cover charges paid to a worker through payroll do not count towards National Minimum Wage

    3. Employment Relations Act 1999

    The Employment Relations Act establishes a number of rights at work in several areas, some of which are covered by previous regulation. Particular areas to pay attention to are trade union recognition, derecognition and industrial action ballots.

    • Employees are legally allowed to join a trade union. They do not have to inform their employer is they are a union member.
    • Unions must be recognised by businesses with 21 or more employees if there is enough support from the workforce for recognition.
    • Union members can hold a ballot for industrial action (going on strike or refusing to do overtime) when they’re in a dispute with their employers and it can’t be solved through negotiations.
    • Employees can whistleblow on their employer’s wrongdoings and can sue for full compensation if they are sacked or demoted as a result of this.

    4. Maternity and Parental Leave Regulations 1999

    There are specific regulations that govern the rights of employees for time off work due to maternal and parental obligations. These rights also apply for people adopting a child.

    • You must allow mothers-to-be paid time off for ante-natal care
    • Female employees are entitled to take 52 weeks’ Statutory Maternity Leave, which consists of 26 weeks of ‘Ordinary Maternity Leave’ and 26 weeks of ‘Additional Maternity Leave’
    • A mother who has completed 26 weeks’ service by the end of the 15th week before the child is due should qualify for Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP)
    • New fathers may also qualify for up to two weeks’ paid paternity leave
    • If parents lose a child under the age of 18 or suffer a stillbirth from 24 weeks of pregnancy, they have the right to two weeks’ paid leave
    • Parents with at least one year’s service can request unpaid leave to look after their children. The maximum in any one year is 4 weeks, unless you agree more

    5. The Equality Act 2010

    The Equality Act prevents discrimination in the workplace and the recruitment process, but also in wider society protecting people from discrimination, harassment and victimisation. From an employer perspective it identifies characteristics that cannot be used as a reason for any workplace decisions, unless those decisions are related to providing suitable arrangements to accommodate people in the workplace. 

    The nine protected characteristics are:

    • Age
    • Disability
    • Gender reassignment
    • Marriage and civil partnership
    • Pregnancy and maternity
    • Race
    • Religion or belief
    • Sex
    • Sexual orientation

    As an example, if a woman who was 7 months pregnant interviewed for a job, you wouldn’t be able to use her pregnancy as a reason not to offer her the job if she was the most suitable candidate.

    A lot of businesses learnt the hard way through the pandemic that being unaware of key employment laws could leave them in hot water. If you do need expert advice on any or all of these areas, we’re here to help, so please get in touch with me directly on Catherine.kerr@primaslaw.co.uk