Employment law

In developing your ideas and creations, you might find yourself entering into employer/employee relationships. You might not specifically set out to hire someone or become an employee, but certain kinds of working relationships come under employment law even if you don’t think of them in those terms.

As usual, a little thought and planning in advance may well save you a lot of hassle in the future. This is just a quick summary of some basic points around employment law – if you need legal advice, make sure you consult a professional lawyer.

Employer responsibilities

As an employer you’re responsible for anyone employed under a contract of service with you, or with a company you own, under which they will work for some form of payment. This includes permanent employees, fixed-term employees, casual and part-time employees. An individual who is self-employed, an independent contractor, a consultant or a volunteer will not become your employee.

You must give employees written details of the important aspects of their contract within their first two months of starting work. See our Contracts article for more information and links on this subject.

Employee rights

As an employee in the UK, you automatically have certain rights. These include:

Employees must be paid at least the National Minimum Wage. The employer may choose to run a PAYE scheme for tax and National Insurance (NI) to ensure that the correct tax and NI contributions are deducted from wages. Employees should also receive itemised pay slips. If an employer fails to deduct tax and National Insurance, they may be fined by the HMRC.

Employees are entitled to a minimum period of notice of termination of their employment. The law sets a minimum period of notice (essentially one week for every year of service, up to a maximum of 12 weeks) but you can agree longer notice periods in the employment contract.

Full-time employees are entitled to a minimum of 28 days’ paid leave annually (including UK public holidays). This allowance will be adjusted on a pro-rata basis for part-time employees. In practice, many employers provide their employees with paid holiday entitlements above the legal minimum.

Employees can also be entitled to other types of leave such as maternity or paternity leave. Again, the law sets minimum periods and payments for this but many employers are more generous. There are also other commitments for which employees might be entitled to take a reasonable amount of time off, for example if a dependent is seriously ill.

Health and safety
Employers are responsible for employees’ health and safety while they’re at work. Employees should get appropriate health and safety training, rest breaks, and a working week of no more than an average of 48 hours per week (unless the employee has chosen to opt out of the 48 hour week). Plus, if an employee uses a computer screen or any other kind of visual display unit, the employer must provide free regular eye tests.

In case of any employee-related insurance claims, employers will need Employers’ Liability Compulsory Insurance. Find out more here.

All employees and job applicants are entitled to equal treatment regardless of age, gender, disability, race, religion or other beliefs, sexual orientation, gender reassignment or marital status. Employees have a right to be treated with dignity and respect in the workplace. Harassment or victimisation is illegal, and employers can be held personally responsible. This is an important issue for employers to be aware of, as successful claims for discrimination and harassment can lead to awards against employers of millions of pounds.

Intellectual Property (IP) rights
If an employment contract is silent on IP, the usual position is that it is owned by the employer. However, this is only true of IP created ‘in the course of employment’. So make sure, in advance, that you both know who will own what. It’s always best to include these expectations in the employment contract wherever possible. See Fuel's basic advice on IP rights here.

Problems should be discussed as early as possible. It’s important to check the facts and make sure there really is a problem rather than just a misunderstanding. If there is a real problem, first try to work it out informally. If that doesn’t help, there are formal procedures you should follow. To avoid a legal minefield, employers should always take professional advice before making a decision affecting someone’s employment.

For further information on resolving problems, see some official advice here.

Employees might also want to take advice from their trade union, if they belong to one. More information on joining a union here.