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What Responsibilities do Employers Have to Their Employees?

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Employers have certain legal duties and responsibilities towards their employees and it is important that they fulfil these duties.

This isn’t only because they are legally bound to, but also because these duties and responsibilities can help ensure they have a happy, productive workforce and a positive workplace culture.

What are an Employer’s Responsibilities?

If you’re an employer, there’s broad range of issues, where you have legal responsibilities towards your employees, such as:

  • Fair recruitment
  • Terms and conditions of employment
  • Working time regulations
  • Health and safety
  • Pay
  • Fair treatment
  • Data protection
  • Fair termination of contracts

Failing to meet these responsibilities can have legal consequences, if an employee decides to bring a grievance claim against you.

Who are You Employing?

Employer responsibilities vary depending on the type of contract you have with the people working for you. A worker’s employment status depends on the nature of this contract.

The types of contract you can use are:

  • Full-time and part-term contracts
  • Fixed-term contracts
  • Zero-hours contracts

You can employ full-time or part-time staff, or use agency staff, freelancers, consultants and contractors.

To understand your responsibilities towards your employees, you need to be clear about their employment status.

There are three broad categories of employee status:

  • Employee
  • Worker
  • Self-employed

For an employer, the most significant of these is the employee, as employee relationships are based on a contract of employment.

Someone working under an employment contract has certain rights and obligations, as does their employer.

Under these contractual terms, the employer has a right to give the employee reasonable instructions, but the employee has certain rights under law, such as being paid the national minimum wage, and having paid holidays.

Health and Welfare of Employees

There are laws governing the health and welfare of employees, which employers must adhere to.

Employers have a fundamental duty of care towards their employees, regarding their mental and physical health and their wellbeing.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) gives details of the legal responsibilities of employers when it comes to health and safety management in the workplace.

HSE states that:

It is an employer’s duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees and other people who might be affected by their business. Employers must do whatever is reasonably practicable to achieve this.

Under law, employers must assess risk in the workplace, and instruct and train employees on how to deal with them.

They must also consult employees on health and safety issues.

What are an Employer’s Contractual Obligations?

If you employ someone, you define their relationship with you by the terms and conditions in their employment contract.

This contract also gives you, the employer, certain contractual obligations. It is a legally binding document. It must be a written contract or statement of employment.

As part of these obligations, you will need to give employees:

  • Statutory sick pay
  • Minimum level of paid holidays
  • Minimum length of rest breaks
  • Maternity, paternity and adoption pay and leave
  • Payslips showing all deductions

Other key responsibilities of employers include paying at least the minimum wage and registering with HMRC.

Flexible Working and Reasonable Adjustments

All employees have the right to request flexible working, to suit their needs. To be eligible for this, an employee must have worked for you for 26 weeks.

The law requires that you must deal with these requests in a reasonable manner. This means you should assess the employee’s application for its advantages and disadvantages, and discuss the request with the employee.

You should also offer an appeal process, should you turn the request down.

You can refuse an application for flexible working, if you have a good business reason for doing so.

Working patterns have changed dramatically since the Covid-19 pandemic, and more employers are adopting flexible working solutions. Therefore, it’s more likely that these requests are going to increase.

Another area where employers should be prepared to adapt their workplaces is where someone requests reasonable adjustments.

As an employer, you have a duty to make reasonable adjustments to enable someone to do their job.

Essentially, a reasonable adjustment is where you make a change to remove or reduce the effect of something in the workplace to enable a disabled employee carry out their role.

This can also apply to disabled job applicants.

The reasonable adjustment can apply to:

• The workplace itself
• The way you do things
• Providing assistance to the employee or job applicant.

How Many Hours Are Your Employees Working?

There are regulations that govern working time in the UK. Employers must ensure that they meet the minimum conditions that relate to weekly working time.

The Working Time Regulations 1998 limit the working week to a 48 hour average, and the working day to an average of eight hours.

Employees also have the right to 11 hours rest a day, a day of each week, and in-work rest breaks (where the working day is longer than six hours).

Full-time employees are entitled to 28 days paid leave a year.

Staff can opt-out of the 48 hour average working week, if you ask them and they agree to this.

Fair Treatment in the Workplace

Bullying and harassment are serious workplace issues, and there are employment laws to protect employees from them.

You are responsible, as an employer, for preventing bullying and harassment in the workplace. You should be making it clear to you employees that you will not tolerate it.

It’s not enough to state that you have a policy to deal with bullying and harassment. You need to ensure you have a workplace culture where people aren’t afraid to come forward and report inappropriate behaviour.

If you don’t, then you leave yourself open to potential action from an employee, if they suffer bullying and harassment.

Another major aspect of a positive workplace culture is making sure it is non-discriminatory.

Under the law, there are certain protected characteristics that people have, and it is illegal to discriminate against anyone based on these characteristics. They include:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Marriage or civil partnership
  • Pregnancy or maternity
  • Race
  • Religion or belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation

You must make sure that you do not discriminate as an employer, and that you can identify discrimination if other people express it in the workplace.

Equal pay is also a key feature of fair treatment in the workplace.

Under the Equality Act 2010, men and women have the right to equal pay for equal work.

Employers are required by law to treat employees fairly, and legally, they must disclose pay data to demonstrate this fairness.

However, pay fairness can be a complex issue, and employers should work to build trust with their employees in terms of:

  • How fair pay outcomes are
  • How fair the processes are in reaching pay decisions, and
  • The sort of treatment employees receive when pay decisions are implemented

Protecting Your Employees’ Data

In the UK, the Data Protection Act implements GDPR, the General Data Protection Regulation.

Employers must understand what personal data is, and must inform employees what the purpose and use of their personal data is. They must explain clearly to employees how they will treat this personal data.

Employers must gain the explicit consent of their employees for the specific use, purpose or processing of their personal data.

Compliance is central to data protection, and employers should have the right training, auditing and documentation of processes to support and demonstrate this.

Where you, the employer, need to share or transfer personal employee data involving third-party providers such as payroll or recruiters, you must make sure these third parties are data protection compliant.

Where you’re storing personal data, be clear about the purpose for doing so, and what legal requirements there are for keeping it for minimum periods of time. You will need to be able to justify retaining it.

Terminating Contracts

If you need to dismiss an employee, you must follow procedures for terminating a contract, and avoid unfair dismissal.

Common reasons for dismissal include redundancy, inability to do the job correctly and misconduct.

For dismissal to be seen as fair, you will need to give a specific reason for it, such as:

  • Failure to do the job
  • Misconduct
  • Redundancy
  • Statutory illegality

And you should carry out this dismissal reasonably.

It can be necessary to dismiss employees, but it can also be costly, and disputes can end up being drawn-out, with an impact on overall workplace morale.

Employers and Employment Law

If you’re an employer and you are unsure of, or are dealing with, certain legal issues to do with employment, it’s best to seek professional help and advice.

For more information about our services related to employment and HR, please call 0800 088 6004, or complete our online contact form, and we will be in touch as soon as possible.

Jennie Jahina


Jennie Jahina


Jennie is a Partner and Head of the Employment team.  A member of the Employment Lawyers Association, Jennie has 21 years’ experience and is an accredited CEDR Mediator. She acts for private sector organisations ranging from SMEs to multi-national companies and public sector organisations.