By Karen Bexley, partner and head of employment law at MLP Law

Employers looking to expand their workforce and take on more staff must first be diligent to the law when it comes to employer obligations. There is a long list of legal requirements that employers must adhere to guarantee they are not liable. And whilst this can seem daunting, ensuring the right documentation and processes are in place can help to placate these fears and can ensure the business is operating within the law.

Fulfilling all legal requirements can also help to promote a positive working environment as an employee who feels like their employer has their best interests in mind is more likely to be content in their role. This in turn can help to increase productivity levels and can go towards retaining the best talent. In order to meet all legal requirements when it comes to hiring and retaining employees, there are six key areas that employers must adhere to:

  1. Employment contract
The employment contract is the most important piece of documentation that the employer should have in place when it comes to new hires. Before the terms of employment can be agreed, employees must be provided with written terms of employment within eight weeks of their starting date. The employment contract should cover all areas of employment such as notice periods, rates of pay and working hours.

It is worth noting that whether or not this is disclosed in the contract, it is the law that all employees are entitled to annual holiday entitlements, minimum notice periods and statutory sick pay. The employer should use the employment contract as an opportunity to outline all workplace expectations. It should also include all the necessary information to protect against any employment disputes such as issues surrounding unfair dismissal claims. There are a number of items which are not put in place by law, but which would be helpful to include in the employment contract, these include:

  • Probationary periods
  • Confidentiality obligations
  • The right to recover overpayments and training costs
  • Post-termination restrictions (for senior employees).
  1. Statutory sick pay
All eligible employees are entitled to receive statutory sick pay, which comes in to effect after the fourth consecutive day of absence that is due to sickness. The current rate of sick pay is £88.45 per week and employees are entitled to receive up to 28 weeks of this payment in any period of sickness absence. If an employee has been absent for seven consecutive days or more then the employer is within their rights to ask for a doctor’s sick note to verify the illness.
  1. Wage requirements
It is the requirements of the law for employers to pay their members of staff a wage of at least the minimum level for their age group as set out in the National Minimum Wage. It is important that employers are up to speed with the new governmental changes that come in to effect from April 2016. As of next year a higher rate of pay known as the National Living Wage will come into effect and will mean that any worker aged 25 and over will be entitled to a higher wage bracket. This premium will be added on top of the current national minimum wage and will initially be set at a rate of £7.20 per hour. After the initial introduction of this new higher rate of pay, this will again rise to £9 per hour by 2020. There are incremental increases to both the National Minimum Wage and the National Living Wage per annum and so employers need to ensure they continue to meet these wage requirements.
  1. Holidays
Holiday entitlement depends on the working hours of the business. For example, a business that requires its employees to work five full working days should receive a minimum of 28 days holiday (5.6 weeks’ holiday each year). It is worth mentioning, however, that this is always inclusive of bank holidays. So for businesses that are always closed on bank holidays it is common to describe the holiday requirement as 20 days annually, plus the eight days that employees must take for bank holidays. Employees must by law receive their full pay during holidays.
  1. Discrimination
Discriminating against certain employees based on characteristics such as sex, race age or disability is extremely unethical and can lead to discrimination claims. In regards to disabled employees, employers have a responsibility by law to make reasonable adjustments to their working environment to accommodate their needs.
  1. Notice periods
If it is required for a member of staff’s employment to be terminated then they are entitled by law to a minimum period of notice. The employee that has worked for the company for two years or less is entitled to one week’s notice. This then goes up to two weeks after two years of service has been undertaken. Employees are then entitled to an additional week after every complete year of service, up until a maximum of 12 years. However, on occasion, the employment contract might stipulate that the notice period is longer, and so this then takes precedence.

Getting to grips with the legal requirements can help to save valuable time and money and can help to protect against any problems that might arise. Employers need to take their responsibilities seriously to ensure they promote a positive working environment and to prevent finding themselves in hot water later down the line.