Riddled throughout employment law, there are a number of
instances where small employers are put in a special, advantageous position.
However, as employment law in this country has developed on a piecemeal basis,
these instances are inconsistent in the way they are applied. What is clear,
though, is that exemptions for small employers are under attack in certain
areas. As it is rarely done, it might be useful for small employers to see the
types of exemptions and advantages that currently exist for them.
The current advantages
There is a legal obligation on all employers to specify any
applicable disciplinary rules or refer employees to a reasonably accessible
document containing them. Similarly, there is a rule that employers should
specify how a grievance can be made. Currently, these rules do not apply to
employers who, together with any associated employer, employ fewer than 20
people. This rule will become obsolete once the new provisions relating to
statutory disciplinary and dismissal procedures, and statutory grievance
procedures, set out in the Employment Act 2002, come into force next year.
The provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 do
not apply to an employer who has fewer than 15 employees. In this instance, it
does not include employees of an associated employer, according to the case
law. The Government has already signalled it will remove the threshold
altogether during 2004.
Employers with less than five employees are relieved from
the duty to record health and safety arrangements and having health and safety
policy statements in writing.
The new mandatory trade union recognition procedures apply
only to employers which, taken with any associated employer, employ either at
least 21 workers on the day on which a request for which recognition is
received, or have employed an average of at least 21 workers in the 13
In the world of maternity law, employers are given statutory
protection for certain dismissals taking place if it, together with any
associated employer, does not employ more than five employees. Small employers
also are entitled to a higher recoupment in respect of statutory maternity pay.
The rules relating to the mandatory establishment of
European works councils have a high threshold of 1,000 employees in at least
two member states of the EEA with at least 150 in each of at least two of those
member states. Similarly, the new laws on national works councils will apply to
employers with 50 or more employees, or workplaces with 20 or more employees
(the UK is almost certain to choose the former option).