Relationship Between European And UK Employment Law

3rd March 2016 by

Most European employment law is created at an EU-wide level (in the form of directives) and then brought into national law by each member state. Therefore, some UK employment law has its origins in the EU but has been implemented in the UK by national law.

There is a degree of minimum protection for employees throughout the EU in certain areas, such as:

  • Employees’ rights upon acquisition of their employer’s business.
  • Working time, including maximum weekly working hours and annual leave entitlement.
  • Informing and consulting employees on workplace issues, including in relation to reductions in workforce.
  • Discrimination on grounds of age, disability, gender identity, marital or civil partnership status, pregnancy or maternity, race, ethnic or national origin, religion, religious belief or philosophical belief, sex or sexual orientation.
  • Part-time workers and workers on fixed-term contracts.

However, each member state has a degree of flexibility in deciding how to implement each European directive and some choose to implement national laws which go further than the minimum requirements of European law.

Employment law in England & Wales

Employees in England & Wales have a number of rights which have no equivalent in the US and other non EU countries. The following is a brief summary of the most important rights and protections of those working in England:

  • The right to receive a written statement of their terms of employment within two months of starting work. Employers may be liable to a fine of between two and four weeks’ pay if employees are not given such a statement, which is typically contained in a simple employment contract.
  • Maximum working week and annual leave entitlement. Most employees cannot be required to work more than an average of 48 hours a week unless they expressly agree otherwise with their employer. Senior employees who have autonomous decision making powers are not subject to this limit. Employees are also entitled to 5.6 weeks’ paid annual leave (that is, 28 days for a full-time employee). This can include public and bank holidays, of which there are eight a year in England.
  • Time off rights relating to family. Employees have the right to paid time off for antenatal or adoption appointments and for maternity, adoption, paternity and parental leave. In most cases the amount that they are entitled to be paid is specified by legislation and increased each year. They also have the right to unpaid time off in certain circumstances to care for dependants.
  • Sick pay during any sick leave. Employees are entitled to be paid when they are off sick. The amount that they are entitled to receive is known as “Statutory sick pay” (SSP) and increased each year. There is no statutory limit on the amount of time which employees may take off due to illness or injury. However, their entitlement to SSP ceases after they have been absent for sickness for more than 28 weeks in any three-year period.
  • Entitlement to notice. After one month’s service, employees are entitled to notice from their employer of the termination of their employment. The minimum statutory right is to one week’s notice, rising by one week for each year of service up to a maximum of 12 weeks.
  • Termination of employment. There is no concept of “at will” employment in English law. Once employees have been employed for a certain period, they may only be dismissed for one of five prescribed reasons, including redundancy (lay off), incapability and misconduct. In addition, employers must follow a fair procedure when dismissing an employee. Failure to follow a fair procedure, or terminating employment for a reason other than one of the reasons permitted by law, could lead to a claim for unfair dismissal. For 2015/16, the maximum compensation for unfair dismissal is £92,585 in most cases, although for certain dismissals, such as those in connection with pregnancy or for whistleblowing or trade union activities, the compensation is unlimited.
  • Protection from discrimination. Employees have the right not to be discriminated against because of age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage or civil partnership, pregnancy or maternity, race, religion or belief, sex or sexual orientation. Compensation for breach of the discrimination laws is not subject to any cap.
  • Pension provision. To encourage individual saving, the government introduced new employer pension duties from 1 October 2012. These are being phased in for employers depending on the size of their workforce over a five-and-a-half-year period and will eventually require all employers in the United Kingdom to automatically enrol eligible workers in a pension scheme.
  • Data privacy. Employees have more rights to privacy in the workplace in England (and indeed in the EU) than they do in the US. Employers generally need employees’ consent to process any personal data, but this may be obtained through an appropriate provision in the employment contract (which must be signed by both parties). In addition, special rules apply to transferring data outside of England to a country that is not in the European Economic Area. “Transferring” in this sense includes accessing data contained on a global HR intranet from the US. An employer’s ability to monitor employees’ emails and Internet use is also more restricted in England compared to the US.

Statement of terms of employment

English law requires employers to provide their employees with a statement of terms, which must contain the following information:

  • Name of employer and employee.
  • Place of work.
  • Hours of work.
  • Paid leave entitlement.
  • Sickness absence and pay entitlements.
  • Length of notice required to terminate the employment.
  • Disciplinary and grievance procedures.
  • Provision for any pension.
  • Whether a collective agreement applies to the employment.

It is common for contracts to also include confidentiality provisions and, for senior or key employees, non-compete or business protection clauses.

Employees do not have the statutory right to benefits such as private medical insurance, permanent health insurance (long-term disability insurance) or dental insurance, although private medical insurance is commonly offered to “white collar” employees.

For advice and information in relation to the issues set out in this article, or any other issues in relation to employment law generally, please contact Nicholas Evans of Healys on 020 7822 4141 or