By Claire West

A new report has exposed the alarming extent to which UK employers lack basic knowledge concerning workers’ rights.

Employment law consultancy ClearSky HR surveyed 141 small business owners to gauge their awareness of current legislation.

Worryingly, 80% of respondents (113) were unaware of their duty to issue all new members of staff with a contract of employment within two months of their start date.

Furthermore, nearly half of those surveyed (49%) were oblivious to the fact that an employee qualifies for paternity leave after just 26 weeks of service. Many respondents mistakenly believed the qualifying period to be much longer.

Derek Kelly, managing director at Cheshire-based ClearSky HR, described the results as a wake-up call for small business owners.

He said: “Our findings demonstrate a worrying lack of employment law understanding amongst business owners.

“Failure to issue a contract of employment within two months’ of an employee’s start date leaves employers exposed to compensation costs of up £1,800 per staff member in the event of a tribunal claim.

“Ten members of staff and you’re facing £18,000 in compensation, not to mention the spiralling legal costs.

“The lack of familiarity with paternity-leave rules is also a cause for concern, particularly with the forthcoming reforms enabling couples to shared paid parental leave.

“Failure to manage such requests and plan ahead could have crippling consequences for small business owners in terms of resources and workload.”

ClearSky HR provides fixed-fee advice and support to small businesses on a wide range of human resources (HR), employment law and health & safety issues.

Access to CIPD-qualified consultants ensures clients remain compliant with ever-changing legislation, helping to minimise the risk of an employment tribunal claim. Unlike its competitors, ClearSky HR offers small businesses the flexibility of monthly rolling contracts with no minimum term.

Kelly added: “With one in eight small businesses being taken to an employment tribunal this year, compliance with the rules is absolutely vital.

“Our survey suggests far too many employers are leaving themselves wide open to a potential claim by getting the basics wrong.

“It may be that the recent introduction of tribunal fees is fostering a false sense of security amongst employers.

“Whatever the reason for this complacency, small businesses are jeopardising their reputation, finances and very existence by failing to get to grips with their legal obligations.”