What are the specific employment law considerations for a new UK company hiring staff?

When you establish a new company, there are myriad factors to consider. One of the most crucial aspects that should not be overlooked is understanding employment law as it pertains to hiring staff. Your employees are the engine that drives your business, and you need to ensure that you are well versed in their legal rights and employer responsibilities. This comprehensive guide will delve into the critical elements of UK employment law that businesses need to understand when hiring their workforce.

Understanding Employment Contracts

At the heart of any employment relationship is the contract. A contract of employment is an agreement between the employer and the employee that stipulates the terms and conditions under which the work will be performed. It's vital to understand the legal implications of these agreements and to ensure they're legally compliant.

Contracts can be written or verbal, but written contracts are advantageous as they clearly outline the duties and rights of both parties. The contract should detail key aspects such as working hours, pay, leave entitlement, dismissal procedures, and the employee's job role. It's important to be clear and transparent in these contracts to avoid future disputes.

Employers must provide a written statement of the main terms of the contract (known as a "principal statement") to their employees within two months of their start date. This statement must include specific details like the employee's pay scale or rate, hours of work, holiday entitlement, and notice period for termination.

Ensuring Fair Pay

A fundamental aspect of your employees' rights is their right to fair remuneration for their work. The government sets a National Minimum Wage and a National Living Wage, which employers must adhere to. The rate varies depending on the employee's age and whether they are an apprentice.

For workers aged 25 and over, the National Living Wage applies, while different rates apply for younger workers and apprentices. It's essential that you familiarise yourself with these rates and ensure that your pay scales are compliant.

Equal pay is another aspect of this law. The Equality Act 2010 stipulates that men and women doing the same job must receive equal pay. This includes not only basic pay, but bonuses, pension benefits, and any other form of remuneration.

Respecting Leave Entitlements

Understanding leave entitlements is a crucial part of employing staff. All workers are entitled to 5.6 weeks of paid annual leave per year, which equates to 28 days for a full-time worker. The leave can include bank holidays, depending on the terms of the contract.

There are also other types of leave that employers should be aware of, such as maternity leave, paternity leave, parental leave, and sick leave. Each type of leave has different rules regarding entitlement and pay. For example, Statutory Maternity Pay is paid for up to 39 weeks, with a specific rate set by the government.

Navigating Dismissal and Discrimination Laws

As an employer, it's crucial to understand the laws around dismissal and discrimination. Unfair dismissal claims can result in significant legal repercussions for businesses. Employees who have been with your company for a minimum period have the right not to be unfairly dismissed.

Valid reasons for dismissal include misconduct, poor performance, redundancy, or a statutory restriction (for example, an HGV driver losing their driving licence). However, even with a fair reason, you must follow a fair procedure when dismissing an employee.

The UK is also very strict on discrimination laws. The Equality Act 2010 protects employees from discrimination based on protected characteristics, such as age, sex, race, disability, religion or belief, sexual orientation, marriage or civil partnership status, pregnancy or maternity, and gender reassignment. Breaching these laws can lead to hefty financial penalties and reputational damage.

When hiring staff, you must ensure that your recruitment processes do not discriminate against anyone due to these protected characteristics. This includes not only the selection process but also job advertisements, interview questions, and candidate assessments.

Providing a Safe Working Environment

Ensuring a safe working environment is not only a moral duty but a legal one. Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, employers have a responsibility to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of their employees at work.

This involves providing safe machinery and equipment, carrying out regular risk assessments, providing adequate training and supervision, and having protocols in place for emergencies. Failure to comply with health and safety laws can result in significant penalties, including fines and imprisonment.

In summary, understanding and adhering to employment laws when hiring staff is essential for any new UK company. It not only protects your business from legal ramifications but also helps you establish a professional and respectful relationship with your employees. The law in this area is complex and constantly evolving, so it's advisable to seek professional legal advice when drafting contracts and setting up employment policies.

Comprehending Flexible Working Rights and Trade Union Laws

One important aspect of UK employment law is the provision for flexible working. After 26 weeks of employment, employees have the right to request flexible working - a change to their working pattern. This could involve part-time working, job sharing, working from home, or shift work. As an employer, you are obliged to consider these requests in a reasonable manner. Although you are not obliged to grant every request, you must provide a clear business reason for any refusal.

Additionally, when hiring staff, it is imperative to understand the laws surrounding trade unions. Employees have the right to join or not join a trade union, and they are protected from unfair treatment or dismissal based on their decision. If recognised by the employer, trade unions negotiate with the employer on issues such as pay, working hours, and holidays, known as collective bargaining. Understanding trade union rights is important to maintain a fair, balanced, and lawful relationship with your staff.

Recognising Employment Tribunal Procedures and Providing Sick Pay

In the unfortunate event of a dispute escalating, it may be taken to an employment tribunal. As a new employer, understanding the procedures and potential costs involved in an employment tribunal is of utmost importance. Employment tribunals handle cases related to unfair dismissal, discrimination, redundancy, whistleblowing, and wage disputes. Preparing for these possibilities can help protect your business from financial and reputational damage.

Another aspect of employment law to understand is sick pay. If an employee is unable to work due to illness, they are typically entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) for up to 28 weeks. However, the terms and conditions of your employment contracts may offer a more generous sick pay scheme. Ensure you are familiar with the obligations relating to sick pay to maintain legal compliance and fair treatment of your staff.


Starting a new company in the United Kingdom comes with a multitude of responsibilities, not least of which is adhering to employment laws when hiring staff. From understanding employment contracts, ensuring fair pay and respecting leave entitlements, to navigating dismissal and discrimination laws, providing a safe working environment, understanding flexible working rights, trade union laws, employment tribunal procedures, and providing sick pay – it's a vast and complex field.

However, it's not insurmountable. The key to tackling this is to stay informed and to seek legal advice where necessary. With a good grasp of these laws, you can create a supportive, fair and motivating environment for your employees, which will in turn drive the success of your company. Remember, your employees are your most significant investment - both in terms of time and money. So, getting these crucial aspects right from the outset is the best step you can take towards your business's future success.