I fought the law, and the law won

Opinion is divided over whether the volume of employment law HR now has to deal with on a monthly basis is a good thing: it gives HR departments plenty of leverage with line managers but it is an ever-growing burden on the profession.

Estimates put the cost of meeting legislation for business at £30bn since 1997.

In an attempt to close this case, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and law firm Lovells have surveyed HR professionals in more than 600 UK employers on their attitudes to and experience of employment legislation.

The majority of employers see employment law as making a positive contribution to employee relationships and as increasing employees’ sense of fairness and trust in their employer.

Less than one-sixth of employers see employment law as getting in the way of, or detracting from, the real issues facing their business.

Perhaps surprisingly, flexible working legislation has been hailed as a success. Fifty three per cent of respondents said it was well drafted and easy to apply, making it the most welcomed piece of legislation.

On the other hand, employers seem to be making little effort to combat the perceived ‘long-hours culture’ in the UK.

Freedom of Information rights are the most difficult to apply, according to results.

The key findings of the report are:

  • A significant proportion of employers believe employment regulation can have a positive impact in supporting their strategic HR and/or business goals. More than half of all respondents believe that the laws on disability, sex discrimination, equal pay, race relations, flexible working and parental rights at work make a positive contribution to the business.
  • The main barriers to the effective implementation of employment law are
    1. the perception that there is too much legislation
    2. a lack of resources within organisations to devote to translating law into practice.
  • More than half of respondents believe employment legislation is too complex. Just under half rate the available guidance as ‘poor’. These attitudes are relatively consistent across the public and private sectors, and across organisations of all sizes.
  • In encouraging compliance with employment law at all levels, the threat of sanctions is not widely perceived to be effective.
  • The threat of employment tribunal claims doesn’t drive employers to comply with employment law, nor do employers see threats of disciplinary action as being an effective way of ensuring compliance by their employees.
  • The survey shows that it is difficult to generalise about ‘employment law’ as a whole; each piece of legislation receives a very different response.
  • Anti-discrimination and family-friendly legislation are perceived to be the most necessary types of legislation, with more than 50% of employers welcoming these regulations. Far fewer employers feel the same way about statutory trade union recognition, freedom of information, statutory dispute resolution or informing and consulting with employees.

The two specific pieces of legislation explored by the survey – on flexible working and working time – produced very different sets of results.

Flexible working legislation

Flexible working is generally viewed positively by employers, while the response to working time is more guarded.

The majority of employers see the right to request flexible working as a driver of good employment practice, with only 15% suggesting that the legislation is unnecessary red tape.

A large majority of employers find compliance with the legislation relatively straightforward. Of those who have had problems, the main barrier to compliance is that managers find it difficult to manage employees on different flexible working arrangements. There is also concern about precedents being set in relation to future requests.

The majority of employers indicated that they had seen some direct business benefits from the legislation. Among those benefits are improvements in staff retention, improved morale and a reduction in costs (for example, through hot-desking).

Less than one-tenth of employers have faced grievance or disciplinary proceedings, or an employment tribunal claim, as a result of the new legislation.

Working time regulations

Less than one-third of employers indicate that they have introduced policies in the last few years aimed at reducing working hours.

Four-fifths of employers report that working hours have, in fact, stayed the same in their organisation since the introduction of the Working Time Regulations, with one-tenth reporting an increase

Only 22% of employers report that the regulations have had a positive effect on their organisation, with the remainder reporting the effect as negative or negligible

Just 17% of respondents say they feel under pressure to reduce working hours, when reported.



How do employers regard the specified regulations?

Legislation Necessary (%) Well drafted and easy to apply (%)
Disability Discrimination Act 85 23
Sex Discrimination Act 81 29
Equal Pay Act 76 22
Race Relations (Amendment) Act 74 22
Parental rights at work 70 41
Part-Time Workers regulations 69 29
TUPE Regulations 69 8
Data Protection Act 64 11
Age discrimination legislation (2006) 60 n/a
Working Time Regulations 57 20
Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 57 23
Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 57 22
Fixed-Term Employees regulations 53 23
Right to request flexible working 52 51
Statutory dispute resolution rules 46 26
Information and Consultation of Employees Regulations 38 19
Freedom of Information Act 34 7
Statutory union recognition 26 11

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