Under UK (and EU) law, employers have legal obligations towards their employees, and employees have certain rights whilst at work.
Those rights are and obligations are clearly understood, and are adhered to and followed by most employers. However, there are some companies, and some poor senior management teams, who are not so strict in adhering to the rules, laws and obligations imposed upon them, or who otherwise accidentally or intentionally infringe or limit employee rights. Although those companies are very much in the minority – their actions or omissions can make things very unpleasant or even dangerous for the employees affected.
June 2017 saw the Law Society (the regulating and governing body for the legal sector) step in regarding the workplace and employee rights. The Law Society recommended that the government form an independent inspectorate, backed by government and with full authority and legal powers, to enforce employee rights in the workplace. Such an independent agency would effectively stop and curb poor employers from breaking em0ployerment laws, and exploiting staff.
The recommendations of The Law Society to Matthew Taylor’s government – commissioned review into employment practices would see accredited government inspectors having the ability and power to enter a workplace and determine whether the staff are defined as employees, workers, or independent contractors. Further, those accredited inspectors would be able to review working practices, workplace conditions, and other aspects of employment legislation and working rights.
According to Law Society President Robert Bourns “rights at work are not optional – they are the minimum standard to which we are entitled … When there is a dispute our law relies on individuals taking their employer to court to get their rights recognised – a task that is simply beyond most people. Bad employers know this, and take advantage of it to cut corners and underpay people, knowing they’ll probably get away with it … An independent government inspector who can go into a business to ensure staff are being given their proper workplace rights will help put a stop to this exploitation, and put everyone on a fair and even playing field.”
Mr Bourns went further, stating that “new ways of working are bringing opportunities, but employment law must keep up with these changes if rights provided by parliament are not to be ignored and overridden … Our recommendations are carefully designed to create better employment laws that support improved working practices, enabling employers to create the thriving economy that we all want to see, without ignoring the rights of some of the most vulnerable in society.”
The workplace inspector recommendation is one of three key suggestions made by the Law Society, all of which are designed to ensure that employment laws are clear and transparent, and also work well amidst rapidly changing employment practices – and an increasing tendency of companies to treat people as independent contractors. With that in mind, the Law Society has also on several occasions called for employment statuses and related rights to be clearly defined in one single piece of legislation. Amidst such a rapidly changing employment landscape, and a bewildering change in working practices and techniques, Mr Bourns also stated that “Matthew Taylor’s review is a timely point to update our employment laws, and ensure they serve everyone well.”