By Marcus Leach

Employment law was the single biggest issue for business owners calling the Forum of Private Business’s legal helpline during a five week period between September and October, which included the 1 October ‘common commencement date’ when new regulations come into force.

The Forum’s most recent legal helpline figures show that a significant 65% of calls received during the period were queries about employment law, dwarfing the next biggest issue — ‘general business enquiries’ — which prompted just 14% of calls from members.

The terms and conditions of business contracts came third, comprising 10% of all legal helpline calls.

To help small businesses negotiate the legal pitfalls they face, and provide peace of mind when they are employing staff, the Forum has recently launched its new Employment Guide, which covers every aspect of employment law.

“As with much of the legislation affecting small businesses, employment law can be a huge minefield and one of the main problems is that it is constantly changing, with new regulations coming in all the time,” said the Forum’s Chief Executive Phil Orford.

“For example, some of the biggest recent changes came with the Agency Workers Regulations Act, which came into force in October along with a raft of other legal developments. The Act effectively gives temporary workers the same rights as permanent staff, significantly changing the requirements of business owners who rely on the flexible labour market.

“While the burdens of employment law remain in place, keeping up with the changes and putting in place watertight procedures should remain a key priority. It is important to know your responsibilities - and act accordingly so you don’t fall foul of the law.”

According to 2009 figures from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) a single employment claim can cost an employer £1,800 on average — rising to £13,600 in management time, legal fees, staff replacements and potential awards if the claim proceeds to a tribunal.

Reducing employment tribunals by 10 per cent would result in savings of more than £40 million to UK business, the BIS report said.

The Government has recently announced changes to the tribunal system, including extending the qualification period for the right to claim unfair dismissal extended from one to two years.

“The proposed changes to the tribunal system are welcome, and overdue. Nevertheless, a tribunal situation is the last thing any small business wants to be involved in, so the message to all small business owners is to ensure that their HR and employment practices are up to date and follow the letter of the law. Failure to do can be extremely costly," Mr Orford added.

“However, it is important to remember that professional help is out there to ensure firms comply. Ignorance is never an excuse, and that is certainly worth bearing in mind here.”

The Forum is lobbying for a fairer tribunal system and for employment law to be simplified in order to help small businesses create jobs and drive economic growth as part of its Get Britain Trading campaign.

The Forum’s Employment Guide takes into account all the changes which came in to force in October and includes 70 customisable employment law templates and comes in a ‘comply as you complete’ format.

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