Rights & Responsibilities
Employment is a contract, but it's also more than that. The law gives a number of automatic protections to both employer and worker no matter what any contract says.
Even before you secure a job, the law is at work. If, on grounds of race, sex or disability, you are denied a job, rewarded less, or find yourself disadvantaged by the working environment, you can seek legal redress from the Employment Tribunal (formerly the Industrial Tribunal). On the other hand, age discrimination is (so far) legal.
Once you are in a job, if you are treated differently because of your gender, your racial/ethnic heritage, or a physical disability, you can take formal action against the company. If your circumstances make it impossible to continue and your employers won't do anything to help you, then your only option may be to resign and claim constructive unfair dismissal. This is usually a last resort, but if the Tribunal accepts there was nothing else you could do, you should be compensated.
Seek help from any union to which you belong, or get a solicitor to advise you confidentially before you take action. The Equal Opportunities Commission www.eoc.org.uk and Commission for Racial Equality www.cre.gov.uk are also likely to be interested.
There is the possibility of a civil claim for compensation if you have actually suffered in the working environment created by your employer or co-workers.
Once you are employed you are in a contract with your employer. The contract doesn't need to be written to be binding, but if it remains verbal there is greater opportunity for doubt about the exact terms agreed. If there is a disagreement about pay, holidays, expenses, or hours of work, then it may be difficult for you to prove your case. It is best to have the conditions of work set down on paper before you take up the job, and to have time to study, understand, accept and, if necessary, negotiate the job terms.
By law you are entitled to have a written statement of the terms and conditions of your employment no later than two months after starting. This must specify your pay, holidays, the notice to be given in the event of termination, your job title, and other work issues including any disciplinary procedures.
You are also legally entitled to a pay statement that is itemised (unless you are a merchant seaman, a share fisherman, or work overseas). Failure to do so can be referred to the Employment Tribunal for an order to be made. One side effect of the Working Time Regulations is that all workers are now entitled to four weeks' paid holiday a year, once they have been in employment for three months or more. However, the employer retains the right to insist that you take holidays when it is convenient to him, provided he gives written notice specifying the dates leave is or is not to be taken, and this notice must be at least four weeks in advance. If he doesn't, the employee can give notice of at least four weeks as to when he intends to take holidays.
If things go wrong at work, then there should be a clear process for discipline or grievances. This may be in your contract or in a statement of work rules available to all staff. If not, then ACAS www.acas.org.uk provides codes of practice which are acceptable to Employment Tribunals, and which create a template for good practice in the workplace.If a company acts unfairly in dealing with discipline or termination of employment then it can be held to account, and the employee can be compensated, or seek an order for reinstatement to a lost job. Allegations should be investigated fully and fairly, and employees under disciplinary proceedings must at all stages be given their say and the chance to be represented or supported in meetings or hearings. Wherever possible, judgement in these cases should not be made by someone personally involved in the dispute, although in a small firm this may not be possible. If you are unfairly dismissed, you can apply to the local Employment Tribunal for compensation, re-engagement or reinstatement, but you must do so within three months.
Employment law is very complicated and has millions of tiny rules and regulations, so you are always best to get legal advice on any work problem. You can also consult the Citizens' Advice Bureaux, www.nacab.org.uk and if you are in a union, it should have a legal referral system.
Employment Tribunals in Scotland
215 Bothwell Street
Tel: 0141 204 0730
Fax:0141 204 0732
Legal advice on these pages is provided by Austin Lafferty, Scotland's on-air and online lawyer. As well as running a busy general legal practice in East Kilbride outside Glasgow, he has been for many years the only live phone-in television lawyer in Britain, answering viewers' calls every Tuesday on Lunchtime Scotland Today on Scottish TV.