What obligations does an employer owe its employees?

An employer’s obligations to its employees may be outlined as two-fold. Firstly, matters which are established between an employer and employee; such as written and verbal contracts, and written agreements. Secondly, those obligations that are implied by law such as the obligation not to withhold statutory rights, and the obligation to comply with health and safety regulations.
Employers also, through common law, owe a duty of trust and confidence to the employee. An employment lawyer will be able to give expert advice on the legal obligations of employers.

Employees’ rights

Employment law provides workers with certain basic rights; an employer can never offer less than
these. However, employers are under no legal obligation to provide more advantageous benefits to
their employees. Many employers do decide to offer their staff more generous benefits in order to
attract ambitious staff who will enjoy being at the office.

Most employers offer their employees an employment contact, although this is not a legal
obligation. An employment contract is legally binding however, and generally it is the case that the
terms of the contract cannot be changed without agreement between employer and employee. If
an employer breaches the contract regarding disciplinary action, for example, they may be sued for
wrongful dismissal.

In any event, employers must give their employees a written statement of their employment, within
two months of the employee’s start date. A written statement, such as a staff handbook, may
contain such employment particulars as entitlement to sick pay, grievance procedures and a job
description. A staff handbook may be regarded as non-contractual, however it is best practice for an
employer to give notice and consult before any change.

Employers’ legal obligations

Employers have a legal duty to care and to look after their employees’ health, safety and welfare at
work. In businesses of more than five employees, employers must undertake risk-assessments of all
working practices and processes, and keep a record of their findings and the actions they intend to
take to deal with those risks. Employers are also legally obliged to have a health and safety policy for
the workplace, and to appoint a competent person with responsibility for this.

An employer must not withhold its employees their statutory employment rights, doing so would be
a clear breach of employment law. These rights are in addition to any rights that may be stipulated
in the employment contract. Some statutory rights may be acquired only after a certain length of
employment with an employer. For example, from the day they start work employees have the right
to be paid the national minimum wage and paid time off for antenatal care. In contrast, to bring a
claim for unfair dismissal against an employer, employees must generally have worked continuously
for two years.

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