Reflecting on the Supreme Court verdict that saw employment tribunal fees ruled as unlawful, Gideon Schulman, a director at HR consultancy Pytronot, explains how small business owners can ensure there are no breaches in their employment or workplace regulations.
The Supreme Court has ruled employment tribunal fees as unlawful, meaning workers no longer have to pay for cases that are brought to court.
The fees that were introduced in 2013 were initially to reduce the amount of malicious and weak cases; this worked and reduced the number of cases by 79 per cent in just over three years.
The question is, what does this now mean for small business owners? Are they at risk of workers taking more “malicious and weak” cases to court again?
There are ways of avoiding this and it is important that business owners know what measures to take, in terms of workers rights and working conditions.
It is a part of the law that all employers and their employees should have an employment contract. The contract is a mutual agreement between both the employer and employee setting out conditions suitable for both parties. This would protect all businesses from breaching anything relating to specific workplace regulations.
An employment contract should be set immediately once the employee accepts the job and should typically contain: employment conditions, rights, responsibilities and duties. As it is a mutual agreement, the terms and conditions should not be breached by either side of the party, therefore minimalising the number of “weak and malicious” complaints that could potentially be forwarded to the courts.
By law, contracts should be upheld until it ends or the terms are changed by mutual agreement. This contract does not have to be written down, however, both must acknowledge it.
Contract terms are the legal sections of the contract and must be set out by the employer to the employee. It must be made clear that these sections are legally binding and therefore, these are the sections that can create bigger court cases if broken.
Terms can be: written, verbally agreed, in an employee handbook, on a company notice board, in an offer letter from the employer, required by law, in collective agreements and or in implied terms. It is recommended to write contracts down, however the law does state that it can be agreed verbally. This just means that it would be harder to stand up in a court of law.
The Workplace Health, Safety and Welfare Regulations 1993, makes the employer legally responsible for ensuring good working conditions. The employee is then legally responsible to work safely in the eyes of the law. It lays down the minimum standards for workplaces and work in or near buildings.
By law, all employers must decide what could possibly cause harm whilst working and must take precautions to stop the harm; furthermore, they must explain how risks will be controlled and explain who is responsible for this. All employers must provide training and an explanation as to how a job can be completed safely.
Equipment should be provided, as well as protective clothing, this should legally be maintained. Toilets, first aid facilities, washing facilities and drinking water must be provided as basic working regulations. Injuries, diseases and all dangerous incidents at work must be recorded and must be reported to the Health and Safety Executive. All employees must have insurance to cover them in case of an injury at work.
In order to prevent “weak and malicious” complaints reaching the courts against smaller businesses, all of the basic legal requirements and personal agreements made between employers and employees must be upheld and not broken. This will create and maintain a healthy relationship and build a form of trust between the employer and employee.
Honesty is also key between employer and employee, once the basis of trust has been built, maintained and not broken, the employer should be safe from “weak and malicious complaints” as well as legally safe against any legal court rulings. Records should also be maintained as typical standards and as legal proof against any claims.
Gideon Schulman, is HR director at Pytronot, a firm offering professional advice to small business owners
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