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Is employment law damaging the UK’s businesses?

Less than 100 years ago, there was little or no protection for employees. As a result, employers were able to treat them with scant regard for their working conditions, personal wellbeing or pay. The Industrial Revolution saw many people coming to live in cities and work in factories. However, as the number of employees rose, working conditions worsened. The Government created Employment Law to protect employees from being mistreated by their employers, helping to establish fair wages and limit the number hours worked per week.

Human rights

Since Employment Law was created, it has evolved and permeated into other aspects of employment – especially where Human Rights are concerned. Laws have been passed to prevent discrimination, bullying and to give employees a voice within the workplace. However, Alistair Tebbit, of the Institute of Directors, believes that Employment Law is damaging UK businesses. He says that: “There has been gradual growth in employment law over the last 10 or 15 years, which the last government encouraged. The current government, although it has said it is going to stop the increase in red tape, unfortunately appears to be doing the opposite."

The main recent changes to Employment Law have included:

  • Increase in the Default Retirement Age
  • The Equality Act – allowing employers to positively discriminate in recruiting from under-promoted minority groups.
  • Equal Rights for Agency – entitling agency workers to the same holidays, pay and basic employment conditions as permanent staff.
  • Statutory Payments
  • Fit notes to replace sick notes – allowing doctors to issue printed sick notes instead of handwritten ones.
  • Union Rights – The Government plans to outlaw the ‘blacklisting’ of employees due to their union membership or activities.
  • Unfair Dismissal – A lower level of compensation for unfair dismissal.
  • Independent Safeguarding Authority – affecting those who want to work with children or vulnerable adults.
  • Time to Train Initiative – allowing employees to request time off for training.

Hampering the wheels of industry?

While most people are aware that the broad strokes of Employment Law are there to protect the rights of employees, many employers feel that some of the minutiae of certain legislation only help to hamper the wheels of industry rather than to keep them turning. In some respects, employers are being made to feel more responsible for their staff than their staff are for themselves.

For example, as of next year under a European directive, employers will be duty-bound to provide time and amenities for employees to undertake exercise in a bid to combat obesity. Current recommendations include:

  • Pedometers to be issued to all employees and a weekly target of 50,000 steps will be compulsory
  • Laptops mounted on treadmills and exercise bikes assisting office workers in meeting their targets whilst working
  • Weekly weigh-ins and BMI tests with results to be posted online
  • Fines for individuals and companies who fail to meet government targets

While most people agree that obesity is an increasing problem in the UK, many employers are asking just why it is that they should be forced to spend time and money on ensuring that their staff meet national standards on an issue that is not necessarily related to the workplace. Alan Johnstone, of the Employers Committee says that: “while we all want fair conditions for employees, it seems that Government are burdening employers with the duties of a nanny, rather than allowing us to continue with generating industry.”

Employment law is there to protect the rights of workers and employers alike. It seems that in introducing this raft of new legislation, some of the fears of employers that business is being hindered rather than helped are not far from the truth.

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