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It’s time to talk about the employment law knowledge gap

Jul 24, 2023 | Uncategorised

Following the law is easy, right? If you pop out to buy some milk, you don’t have to consciously try not to break the law. You just have to, well, not break it.

Would it were that simple in the world of recruitment and HR. Unfortunately, your instincts and common sense won’t get you very far.

Some things in the workplace are obviously illegal. But the niceties of paternity leave or flexible working or strike action might leave you scurrying to Wikipedia for clarification.

If you’re an HR manager getting reliable legal advice, read no further. But if – as is so often the case – you’re crossing your fingers and hoping for the best, you might need to think about changing your ways.

Those clauses you copy and paste could be as out of date as that jar of prunes at the back of your cupboard – and could land you in a costly dispute or employment tribunal.

It’s not just about avoiding legal action, though. It’s also about inspiring trust in your employees. If they sense that you don’t know your SSP from your AWE, or – worse – that you don’t care, they’ll be checking Totaljobs in no time.

In the years following the so-called “Great Resignation”, staff retention is more important than ever – and knowing your legal onions should be a key plank in your strategy.

What is the employment law knowledge gap?

The employment law knowledge gap is where employers are unaware of their legal duties. We’re not judging – it’s hard to run a department while simultaneously keeping on top of musty, Latin-filled documents.

But speaking of Latin, there’s a legal saying that goes “ignorantia juris non excusat”: ignorance of the law is no defence.

In other words, if you end up in an employment tribunal defending your actions against an angry employee, you can’t just say that you missed the memo. It’s your job to keep those memos stuck to your notice board and to know them like the back of your hand.

The knowledge gap runs deep. In 2016, a study revealed that just 45% of workplaces were aware that you had to check that a job applicant has the right to work in the UK before employing them.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. It was also seven years ago. Since then, a lot has changed.

It’s tempting to think of the law as monolithic and unchanging – one of those things that’s just there, like letterboxes or Stephen Fry.

But the law is constantly changing, and employment law is no exception. In 2023 alone, changes are being made to the minimum wage, family-friendly leave, flexible working and more.

Changes are also afoot as a result of Brexit. The Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill will revoke or retain pieces of legislation that have hung over since our withdrawal from the EU.

There’s a reason that lawyers take so long to train. Most of them spent years on end studying textbooks and flashcards. They have to be walking encyclopaedias of the law.

It’s entirely possible to achieve this in-house. But if you find that your internal team isn’t cutting it, it may be time to look for external legal guidance from an experienced employment lawyer.

What does employment law cover?

Employment law covers every stage of the job cycle – from recruitment to employment, from leave to leaving.

At the recruitment stage, employers have to register employers accurately, check that they have the right to work in the UK and provide a written statement of employment terms.

There are strict rules around when and how employment terms can be changed. If you don’t have them at your fingertips, you could end up in a costly muddle.

Then there are laws around probationary periods, minimum wage, holidays, sick pay and pensions. There are laws that cover health and safety, parental leave and staff conduct. And there’s legislation governing data handling, flexible working and disciplinary procedures.

It’s a lot to take in, especially when the precise details are liable to change. As with training, you might want to consider looking outside the company for someone to check that all your ducks are in a row.

The alternative could be crossed wires, disgruntled employees, working hours lost to tribunals and frayed team relationships.

What’s the answer?

If your company is struggling to keep abreast of employment law, it can be advisable to get legal support from an experienced employment lawyer.

They’ll have the ins and outs of every aspect of employment law at their fingertips. They’ll be able to comb your documentation and procedures for errors and ensure that they’re all in line with up-to-the-minute changes to legislation.

They’ll also be able to offer informed advice in the event of a workplace dispute or tribunal.

Having a legal expert to hand can remove some of the stress from the world of HR. After all, this isn’t your expertise. It’s not even your Mastermind subject. You’re here to create and manage a team, not to watch a new flexible working bill crawl through Parliament.

How Milners can help

Here at Milners, we have a close-knit team of experienced employment lawyers who offer expert, straight-shooting legal advice at affordable rates.

But we also have our own cloud-based HR software. This software helps businesses to consolidate all their data in one place to ensure that it’s handled and processed securely.

At a time when breaches of GDPR can be met with a nasty fine, this can be invaluable for your HR department. It’s easy to use and highly secure.

Like all cloud solutions, it’s available from any location – you just need access permission and an internet connection. So if your team is scattered between homes, offices and even train carriages, you know that everyone has access to the information they need.

And it’s scalable. As you recruit new employees, they can be added to the system with minimal fuss.

All in all, it’s a great way to simplify bureaucracy while keeping in line with employment law. Win-win.

Find out more about Milners HR Solutions, our cloud-based HR management software. Give HR staff superpowers with a secure, easy-to-use online platform, backed by expert employment law advice from real lawyers.

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