A rough guide to employment law

By: Liz Dawe

Date: 21 June 2016

A rough guide to employment lawLike many employees of a small business, I wear at least two hats; in my case content management and human resources. With my HR hat firmly in place I recently attended an Acas HR masterclass hoping to pick up a few tips.

It turned out that I wasn't alone in juggling more than one job, and I discovered that I knew more than I thought I did about people management and recruitment. So far, so good.

Then came the employment law bit.

At that point I braced myself to be the one who didn't know the answer to various situational posers. But you know what? Neither, it seems, did the employers, the employees, the lawyers, the courts or the employment tribunals in the case law examples we were given. Alongside the "it depends" responses to the "is this discriminatory?" type of question sat quite a lot of "the first judge said yes, the appeal judge said no".

Can you ban an employee from wearing a religious symbol at work? What if other people find it offensive? What, legally, constitutes "reasonable"? There are no clear answers but there are lots of legal opinions and a great deal of interest in the latest legal judgments setting precedent for the next appeal.

Of course, there are some obvious cases of discrimination, and it would take an extremely obdurate employer to advertise for only young, white, male employees. But it seems that recruitment, work requirements, office behaviour, dress codes, offensive language or freedom of individual expression are all open to quite a lot of interpretation.

If even employment law specialists and judges can't always agree, how on earth can a small business get it right?

My advice would be to gen up on the basics of employment law, have employment policies in place and make sure everyone is aware of them and sticks to them. And if in doubt, err on the side of caution.

It seems that even if one of your hats is actually a long horsehair wig, employment law is still something of a minefield.

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