Experts cast doubt on Government’s ‘employer’s charter’

The Government’s newly published “Employer’s charter”, designed to remind employers of their rights, is weak and “doomed to obscurity”, according to employment lawyers.

The charter, published yesterday along with the Government’s consultation on the reform of workplace dispute resolution, consists of 11 points, highlighting various employer rights.

However, it has today been criticised by employment lawyers, who have questioned whether or not it can be considered a “charter” at all. Darren Newman, employment lawyer at In Company Training Services, sees it as little more than a list of things “an employer can do provided they act ‘fairly and reasonably'”.

Newman says: “Why does the charter go to the trouble of telling employers that they can withhold pay from strikers or ‘talk to employees about their performance’ but completely fail to mention that employers can sack employees for no good reason in the first year of their employment? The Government’s view may be that they are addressing particular myths that have arisen in relation to an employer’s rights. I’m in favour of myth-busting – but why call it a charter?”

Newman added: “You can’t really reduce complicated employment law issues to bullet point form without glossing over some of the details or leaving out important exceptions and qualifications. However, even making allowances for considerable simplification there are some problems with the bullet points themselves.

“It simply does not live up to its billing. You can’t use it as a reference document or even a handy summary. A small employer that reads it will need to take proper legal advice before acting on anything set out in the charter – so what is the point of it?”

Stephen Simpson, senior employment law editor at XpertHR, agreed that the charter omits key information: “The two main criticisms of this document are that so much has been left out and that some of the statements that have been included are so sweeping as to be misleading”, he said.

“At the very least, you would expect an employment document that calls itself a ‘charter’ to mention discrimination, especially since the Equality Act substantially changed the law a few months ago. To give just one example, how about a reminder for employers of the protected characteristics under the Act? Or do employers know all nine off by heart and instead need to be told that they can ‘make an employee redundant if your business takes a downward turn’?

“Statements such as ’employers can ask an employee to take a pay cut’ are too wide. This may suggest to employers that they can simply ask an employee to take less pay. In reality, a pay cut means a change to terms and conditions and so consent should be obtained in writing. It also does not deal with the common scenario where the employee says no to a pay cut,” added Simpson.

For more on this story, read Stephen Simpson’s XpertHR Tribunal Watch blog.

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