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18
Aug 21

Posted by
Jennifer Patton

New Self-Isolation Rules: What the Employer Needs to Know

August 16th 2021 marks a landmark moment in the self-isolation rules implemented to help manage the coronavirus pandemic in England. As of this date, close contacts of someone who has tested positive for coronavirus will not have to automatically self-isolate for 10 days, provided they are fully vaccinated or are aged under 18 years 6 months. This is a huge development for employers who have had to manage the impact of significant numbers of employees being identified as close contacts resulting in significant staff shortages and often severe disruption to the business.

Here is an insight into what the new self-isolation rules mean for employers:

What self-isolation obligations now apply if an employee tests positive?

There has been no change to the self-isolation obligations for employees who test positive. They are required to self-isolate for 10 full days after the date their symptoms first started, or from the date of their positive PCR test, whichever is earlier.

What self-isolation obligations apply if an employee displays COVID symptoms?

Employees who display any COVID symptoms should immediately go home, arrange to take a PCR test and self-isolate while they await the results. ‘Symptoms’ of coronavirus according to the NHS are deemed to be (1) a new continuous cough; (2) a high temperature; or (3) loss of taste or smell.

Do employees have to inform their employer if: (1) they have been contacted by NHS Test & Trace; and/or (2) if they are alerted by the NHS COVID-19 App that they are a close contact of a positive case?

Employees are only legally obliged to notify their employer if NHS Test & Trace informs them that they are required to self-isolate. From 16 August 2021, there will be circumstances where NHS Test & Trace is in touch with an employee but it is then identified that the employee is exempt from self-isolation due to their vaccination status. In these circumstances, employees are not required to notify their employer.

How can employers determine an employee’s vaccination status?

The new rules place the spotlight on an employee’s vaccination status and raise the question of what an employer which is where both employment law and data privacy considerations come into play. Employers must be aware that health data is highly protected as special category data.

The issue is likely to come to the fore in respect of employees who choose to notify the employer that they have been identified as a close contact, or there is a positive workplace case where the employer needs to identify who should self-isolate as a close contact. Here, the employer will be unable to confirm/identify who needs to self-isolate without knowing individual employees’ vaccination status.

Employers should only obtain details of employees’ vaccination status when that data is required to manage specific self-isolation requirements, it may be possible for employers to point to a lawful basis for processing that data in order to determine who is required to self-isolate. The data must be processed in accordance with the data protection principles. 

Related Articles:

- Let's Get Topical - The Vaccine Policy

- Care Home Workers & Mandatory Vaccinations: The New Regulations

 

Posted in Coronavirus

6
Aug 21

Posted by
Jennifer Patton

End of UK Lockdown: Employees Rejoice While Employers Wonder, ‘What Does Workplace Safety now look like?’

On the 22nd of February 2021, the UK Government published its original "Roadmap out of Lockdown" for England, which was initially due to see a "cautious but irreversible" lifting of all legal limits on social contact by the 21st of June 2021. England's Roadmap out of lockdown was divided into four key steps, each step triggered various restrictions being eased subject to the prevailing data on COVID-19 available at the time.

As of the 19th of July 2021, the UK Government has updated its guidance on workplace safety as England moved to step 4 of its roadmap which resulted in the lifting of most covid-19 restrictions. The previous 14 guides to working safely previously distributed have now been replaced by six new sector specific guidelines. Guidance on social distancing, working from home and reduced occupancy has now been dropped and replaced with six priority actions:

  1. Risk Assessment: There is still a requirement to complete a COVID-19 health and safety risk assessment and to keep this updated. Given that a significant amount of time has elapsed since many businesses and employers first implemented a COVID-19 specific risk assessment, existing risk assessments may need a substantial update.
  2. Adequate Ventilation: It is still being emphasised that providing adequate ventilation is key to limiting the spread of the virus. This can either be natural ventilation or mechanical, such as fans and ducts or a combination of both.
  3. Cleaning: Cleaning more frequently still remains a priority, therefore employers should continue to ask members of staff and members of the public to use hand sanitiser to clean their hands regularly.
  4. Face Coverings: While legal requirements around face coverings have been removed, it is still expected that face coverings will be worn in crowded and enclosed spaces and that businesses should consider the use of face coverings, particularly in indoor areas where they may not come into contact with people they do not normally meet. 
  5. Self-Isolation: Employers and businesses should still turn away people with COVID-19 symptoms and respect requirements to self-isolate. 
  6. Communication: Communicating requirements and training also remain important as does making sure that risk mitigation measures relating to workers who are particularly vulnerable are maintained. 

Statements relating to employees working from home is notably absent from the above six priority actions. The government sate employers should continue to support employees working from home where possible however the government expects and recommends a gradual return to the workplace over the coming months.

Equally, references to 2 metres of social distancing have been removed from the previous guidance however it is emphasised that COVID-19 can still be spread through social contact and that reviewing layouts, using screens or barriers or encouraging back-to-back or side-to-side working will remain helpful from a risk mitigation perspective.

Overall, there is a marked change in emphasis compared to the previous guidance. References to making the workplace covid-19-secure have been removed. The reference to "stop the spread" has changed to "reduce the risk", "minimising risk" has changed to "reducing risk", "make your business safe" has changed to "make your business safer", and "you must consider the recommendations" has changed to "you should consider the recommendations".

So what should businesses and employers do next?
Given the high prevalence of the COVID-19 Delta variant in the UK currently many offices are seeing a reduced number of employees wishing to return to the workplace. This has meant that many office based employers have chosen not to significantly alter their current working from home practices in the short-term. With the possibility of additional restrictions being reimposed later this summer or in the autumn, businesses and employers should prepare for the possibility of needing to reimpose some of the restrictions they may have had in place previously.

For now, businesses and employers should start to update their COVID-19 risk assessment to help them gain a better understanding as to what they need to do as part of Step 4 of the Roadmap and continue to keep informed of updated guidance from the Government and review their Covid Secure policy to ensure it reflects the new guidance. - View a sample of the Covid-19 Secure Policy here.

Related Articles:

- Everyone's Talking About Flexible Working

- Care Home Workers & Mandatory Vaccinations: The New Regulations

 

Posted in Coronavirus, Customer Update, Health & Safety

3
Aug 21

Posted by
Jennifer Patton

Care Home Workers & Mandatory Vaccinations: The New Regulations

On the 13th of July 2021, Greece and France made COVID vaccination mandatory for healthcare workers, following the precedent set by Italy. Now, the UK is the next to make the COVID vaccine mandatory for workers in Care Quality Commission-registered homes.

Until recently the UK authorities have not made the Covid-19 vaccination compulsory for any citizens, however on the 22nd of July 2021, regulations were approved in relation to the Health and Social Care Act 2008 . The Act makes it compulsory for a person working or providing professional services in Care Quality Commission-registered care homes to be fully Covid-19 vaccinated, unless they have a medical exemption. The purpose of this regulation, which will only apply to England and come into force on the 11th of November 2021, is to better protect care home residents from death and serious illness.

This regulation will apply to all workers employed directly by the care home or care home provider (on a full-time or part-time basis), those employed by an agency and deployed by the care home, and volunteers deployed in the care home. Those coming into care homes to do other work, for example healthcare workers, tradespeople, hairdressers and beauticians, and CQC inspectors will also have to follow the new regulations, unless they have a medical exemption. The clinical exemption will be clarified in the Code of Practice that will be issued to accompany the Regulations at the end of July 2021. The regulations do not apply to visitors of care homes.

There will be a 16 week grace period from the 22nd of July for all care home workers to be vaccinated, with the 16th of September being the last date for care workers to get their first vaccine so they are fully vaccinated before regulations come into force. The government estimates that by the time the vaccine becomes compulsory, approximately 87% of the workforce will have received both doses.

Employers that fall under these new regulations are highly advised to start putting measures in place so as the regulations can be implementded by 11 November. The steps should include introducing a Covid-19 Vaccination Policy, which includes the medical exemptions that will be acceptable and evidential requirements. The policy should be introduced after discussion with staff. If employees/workers are still reluctant to have the Covid-19 vaccine then you will need to take steps to look at whether they can be redeployed to other areas of the business or even dismissal. Employers forced to dismiss an employee in this circumstance should do so before 11 November 2021, being mindful of any notice periods.

Bright Contracts has recently been updated to include a vaccine policy which covers these consideration points for our customers to include in their employee handbooks, which can be found under the terms and conditions tab. If you wish to download a trial of the software to have a look at a sample of this content, you can download the software here.

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- Everyone's Talking About Flexible Working

Let's Get Topical - The Vaccine Policy

Posted in Bright Contracts News, Coronavirus, Employment Law, Health & Safety

28
Jul 21

Posted by
Jennifer Patton

Everyone's Talking About Flexible Working

The coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis has completely shifted the way we work and live. Companies have had to quickly adopt new initiatives and technologies to ensure employee safety whilst maintaining productivity. Working from home has now become the normality for many of us and adapting to these new ways of working is essential for business continuity.

The UK has been ahead of the curve with the right to request flexible working having been in place since 2014 and after more than a year of enforced home working, UK employers are anticipating an influx of flexible working requests as restrictions lift and staff begin to return to the office.

What is flexible working?

Flexible working can refer to a variety of arrangements includes but is not limited to; part-time work, ‘compressed hours’ over fewer days, remote working, ‘flexitime’ and job sharing arrangements.

Flexible working arrangements can be formal or informal. Some organisations choose to amend the written employment contract when new working arrangements are put in place, and/or include flexible working policies in the employer’s handbook. However some forms of flexible working, such as working from home, are likely to be offered informally, for example in agreement with an employee’s line manager.

Examples of kinds of flexible working that you can request include:

  • reducing your hours to work part-time
  • changing your start and finish times
  • having flexibility with your start and finish time (also known as ‘flexitime’)
  • doing your hours over fewer days (‘compressed hours’)
  • working from home or elsewhere (‘remote working’)
  • sharing the job with someone else (‘job share’)

The right to request flexible working

The legal position is that all employees with at least 26 weeks’ continuous employment are able to make a statutory request for flexible working, in writing, for any reason. A new request can be made once every 12 months. Where a request is made, the employer must deal with that request in a reasonable manner and notify the employee of the outcome, including any appeal, within a three-month period, unless that timeframe is extended by mutual agreement.

Making a request

When making a request for flexible working there is no form however in order to qualify as a statutory request, it must:

  • Be in writing.
  • Be dated.
  • Explain the change they would like to their working pattern.
  • Explain when they would like the change to come into force.
  • Explain what effect the change would have on the business.
  • Explain how such effects might be dealt with.
  • State that it is a statutory request.
  • State if the employee has made a request previously and if so when.

Posted in Bright Contracts News, Contract of employment, Coronavirus, Employee Contracts, Employee Handbook, Employment Law

16
Jun 21

Posted by
Jennifer Patton

Let's Get Topical - The Vaccine Policy

The Vaccine. . . a major topical area and again one that information about is changing by the day. Instead of overloading you with paragraph upon paragraph of text, we thought we’d approach this section as a Q&A which covers all questions you may have about the vaccine policy.

The first question is - Can you insist that an employee be tested?

In the absence of a legal requirement for employees to take a test, no individual can lawfully be forced to take one, as such an action could be considered assault given the physical element of taking a test.

Employees who have no symptoms should only be asked to take a test on a voluntary basis. Employees who have no symptoms and are not a close contact of a confirmed COVID-19 case may query the legal basis of being required to take a covid test before entering the workplace. In this scenario, the purpose of the test should be explained to the employee and if the employee continues to refuse the test, employers need to tread very carefully to avoid employee relations issues.

Moving onto question 2 - Can you ask an employee if they have been vaccinated?

While employees are not obliged to provide personal medical information, employers may seek vaccination information on the foundation that they are meeting their legal obligations under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work etc. Act 1974. It will be up to the employee if they wish to volunteer this information to their employer. If they choose to volunteer this information, then employers should not disclose this information to other employees. As medical data is considered as a Special Category of Personal data, additional data protection regulation apply and must considered.

Lastly, question 3 - Can you insist that an employee be vaccinated?

Currently vaccinations are recommended by UK authorities, but not compulsory for any citizen. Even with the role out of the Covid vaccination amongst medical workers who are employees of the HSE, for these employees the vaccine was not mandatory. With this in mind, it is likely to be very difficult for an employer to argue and defend a case that vaccination is compulsory in a workplace. There is little an employer can do if their employee refuses to get the vaccine however, understanding their concerns is important and finding solutions that meet the business needs without infringing on their rights is crucial in managing their integration into the workplace. Employers need to think carefully about any action they take and consider the potential legal consequences associated with these actions.

If you are an employer, now you are most likely thinking, 'What can I do about the vaccine and my workplace?'. The answer is simple, employees cannot be forced to avail of the vaccine however it is vitally important that employers promote that their employees take a vaccine. The best way to take a proactive stance here is to roll out a vaccine policy. We would advise doing this now to help prepare employees. In creating a vaccine policy you’ll want to consider :

1. Providing your workforce with a list of resources where they can obtain further information about the vaccination programme, for example, gov.uk, nhs.uk

2. Your policy must recognise that the decision to avail of the vaccine is the individual's choice however the employer encourages their workforce to make an informed decision through:

    • Reading information about COVID-19 vaccinations via official sources;
    • Listening to the information provided when offering a vaccine; and
    • Being cautious of misinformation around COVID-19 vaccinations by unreliable sources.

3. Detail whether your employee's will be paid or un-paid for the leave to attend their appointment.

4. If an employee feels unwell after their vaccination they will be instructed to follow The Company's sick leave policy.

Lastly, we would recommend :

5. That employers include a section in the vaccine policy about employee's respecting others privacy and not having open discussions about the vaccine with colleagues.

Bright Contracts has recently been updated to include a vaccine policy which covers these consideration points for our customers to include in their employee handbooks, which can be found under the terms and conditions tab.
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It's As Easy As 1,2,3: Key Elements of a Safe Employee Return

- Vaccinations & The Workplace

Posted in Company News, Coronavirus, Customer Update, Employee Handbook, Health & Safety

9
Jun 21

Posted by
Jennifer Patton

It's As Easy As 1,2,3: Key Elements of a Safe Employee Return

Following on from our previous blog post 'Our Employees Are Back! – How Do I Return My Employees Safely' this blog post will detail the first 3 guidelines of making your workplace COVID-secure during the coronavirus pandemic.:

1.Risk Assessment

2. Social Distancing

3. Cleaning, Hygiene & Handwashing

1.Risk Assessment

As an employer it is vitally important to keep your employees free from harm which includes taking reasonable steps to protect your workers and others from coronavirus through conducting a risk assessment which will help to manage the risk and protect people. 

In order to pinpoint how and where could the virus be transmitted in your workplace you must look at the hazards, evaluate the risks and put control measures in place. This will help you to understand as a business what you should do to work safely and protect your people.

You must complete the following steps:

  • identify what work activity or situations might cause transmission of the virus
  • think about those who could be at risk
  • decide how likely it is that someone could be exposed
  • act to remove the activity or situation, or if this isn't possible, control the risk

COVID risk assessments will need to reflect any changes in legislation or guidance which may impact how employers carry out their work activity, for example if there is a change in local or national restrictions. If there is a change to how work is carried out, you will need to review your Health & Safety policies.

2.Social Distancing

Social distancing means keeping people apart in order to help to reduce the spread of the virus. Where possible, individuals should keep 2 metres apart. If this isn't possible then additional control measures should be considered.

In the UK some rules about social distancing may be different in each of the devolved nations. Therefore you should check the public health guidance for the country you are in.

Social distancing should form part of your business's risk assessment and is one of the steps needed to make your workplace COVID-secure.

Some of the measures you can put in place in order to maintain social distancing includes but is not limited tot eh following:

  • using paint/ floor tape to mark work areas
  • display appropriate signage to remind those to social distance 
  • advise individuals to travel alone in the lift or when driving to work
  • turn high-traffic areas like corridors, turnstiles and walkways into one-way systems where possible

3.Cleaning, Hygiene & Handwashing

The next point is to develop a comprehensive catch-all document that deals with all points of relevance relating to the cleaning & hygiene of your workplace. The virus can be transferred from people to surfaces and those who touch the same surfaces. Therefore keeping your workplace clean and frequent handwashing reduces the potential for coronavirus to spread and is a critical part of making and keeping your business 'COVID-secure'.

For those of you who are using our Bright Contracts package, Bright Contracts has been updated with a template Covid-19 response plan which can be found in the 'Optional Sections' tab of the software. It covers everything referenced just now and more. 

Stay tuned for next weeks blog post to read how to furthermore make your workplace covid secure.

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- Let's Get Back to the Office

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Posted in Coronavirus, Customer Update

2
Jun 21

Posted by
Jennifer Patton

Our Employees Are Back! – How Do I Return My Employees Safely?

As businesses work towards reopening in part or full, and mindful of government advice and changing restrictions, employers must plan for any return to the workplace in a way that cares for their people and safeguards their health and wellbeing. As the UK progresses through the government roadmap to easing restrictions and getting the country back to 'normality' as much as possible employers will need to plan for their employees gradual return to the workplace. Employers should note that the timetable and rules set out in any ‘roadmap’ for easing lockdown are still subject to review and it is essential to keep up to date with any further changes during the progressive easing of lockdown.

Where a return to the workplace is necessary or possible under the latest easing of restrictions, at the heart of any plans should be a commitment to support flexible and remote working where possible, and the provision of support for physical and mental health for workers. 

The Government's advice to work from home wherever possible (expected to last until June or July 2021), offers two options:

  1. Supporting working from home until lockdown restrictions or social distancing is relaxed
  2. Where working from home is not possible, facilitating a return to the workplace in line with COVID-secure workplace guidance.

Where home working is not possible it is advisable to make your workplace COVID-secure. The HSE website provides guidance to employers based on the industry they operate within however the following guidelines are applicable across all industries.

1. Risk Assessment

2. Social Distancing

3. Cleaning, Hygiene & Handwashing

4. Ventilation & Air Conditioning 

5. Provide Information

6. Working From Home

7. Protection of Vulnerable Workers

Our follow up blog post will delve into these guidelines to help you make the return of your employees to the workplace as safe as possible.

We at Bright Contracts can help you get back to the office in line with government guidelines and give your employees the confidence to return with the aid of our COVID-19 policies - temporary working from home and our vaccine policy which are available along with a number of other policies in our Bright Contracts software. If you wish to avail of a free trial you can do so here or you can book a demo of the software with one of our Bright Contracts consultants. To purchase Bright Contracts & download the software you can do so here.

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Posted in Bright Contracts News, Coronavirus, Customer Update

19
May 21

Posted by
Jennifer Patton

Let's Get Back To The Office

There are businesses who are fortunate to be able to bring their staff back to work, and we have received questions on returning employees to work and the practicalities of bringing staff back. Some staff will have not worked yet in 2021, they are at home perhaps in a very small bubble – so it is probably a fair assumption to say that there will be some anxieties from staff in relation to returning to the workplace therefore it is important for employers to take some time to consider how best to manage the process of returning to work. 

We have been asked a number of questions from employers in relation to bringing their staff back to work, for example:

  • A staff member is refusing to come back to work. What do I do? So the first thing I would ask here is what are the individual’s reasons for not wanting to return to work. 

Do they have health & safety concerns?

People have been safe at home for a long time now and there is an understandable anxiety amongst some people about going back into the workplace. If this is the reason, then you need to show to the employee how you have met the requirements of the Protocol and how you are taking preventative measures in the workplace. 

As an employer you have a duty to ensure employee’s safety, health and welfare so it is important that you are taking the right measures and then able to put your employee’s minds at ease. By implementing return to work protocol’s you are promoting communication and collaboration between employers and employees. Employees need to be able to show employees the preventative measures they have taken. Perhaps details of risk assessments completed. If there is a particular employee with specific health concerns, you will need to take into account their specific risk factors which you may consult with the employee on. 

Are they afraid to travel on public transport?

Be open to suggestions here as much as possible such as staggering work times in order for them to avoid peak transport times which will mean packed public transport so as previously mentioned be open to suggestions as much as possible.

  • Do I need to re-issue contracts of employment for staff when they return from lay-off? ?The simple answer is no, it is not necessary. An employee’s contract of employment is not broken when they are placed on lay-off, their service remains. So assuming that they are returning to work on the same terms and conditions as when they left, then it will not be necessary to reissue a contract. 
  • When returning employees to hybrid working, do I need to re-issue a new contract? Our advice here would be yes, it would be best to re-issue the contract or at least an amendment to the contract. A person’s place of work is considered a basic term of the contract of employment, so if the place of work of work is changing that needs to be addressed. If you are agreeing, for example 2 days at home and 3 days in the office it is best to put that in writing to avoid any confusions or misinterpretations down the line. It is also worth having a flexibility line included in the place of work just to say that it may change.
  • Can I take an employee back on reduced or different hours? Due to social distancing necessities and our new norms, it is likely that this will become common practice. It is permissible, once the employee agrees as effectively it is a change to the terms and conditions of employment so it is certainly advisable to get agreement from the employee in writing. 
  • Can I return some employees from lay-off and not others? This scenario will become more common over the next few months as we reopen fully. Yes some people you can certainly bring back before others however it is important to be aware that when choosing employees to return you are using reasonable selection methods and avoiding discrimination and that you are making decisions based on what is right for the business.
We at Bright Contracts can help you get back to the office in line with government guidelines and give your employees the confidence to return with the aid of our COVID-19 policies - temporary working from home and our vaccine policy which are available along with a number of other policies in our Bright Contracts software. If you wish to avail of a free trial you can do so here or you can book a demo of the software with one of our Bright Contracts consultants. To purchase Bright Contracts & download the software you can do so here.

Posted in Bright Contracts News, Contract of employment, Coronavirus

13
May 21

Posted by
Jennifer Patton

Role Changing During Covid-19 - Can the employer require its employees to take on different roles to cover absence?

An employer can expect its employees to carry out different roles within the business where their contract of employment permits this. The employer should consider the relevant job descriptions to see if they comprise of the proposed changes, or if the contract contains a flexibility clause that allows the employer to vary the employees' roles and/or duties. If the employment contract does not allow for this, employers must be aware of the difficulties of imposing contractual changes which could potentially result in claims for constructive unfair dismissal. Any changes to the contract of employment should therefore should be undertaken with early consultation and with a view to reaching agreement with employees.

During the COVID-19 outbreak, employees may be more prepared to accept changes to their contract of employment where there is an imperative need for the work to be carried out, or where the viability of the business may be at risk. Employees may be willing to take on different roles if they are aware that it is for a brief period. The employer should be as transparent as possible with employees about the duration of any changes to their roles. An employee may be seen as having agreed to contractual changes if they carry out the varied role without any complaint.

Employers should ensure that suitable training is provided to any employees who may be required to carry out unfamiliar tasks and a risk assessment should be carried out to cover the temporary redeployment. For example, young or pregnant workers should not be substituted into inappropriate work.

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Posted in Contract of employment, Coronavirus, Dismissals, Employee Contracts

29
Apr 21

Posted by
Jennifer Patton

Probation & Covid-19

Recruiting has never been an easy task to undertake but recruiting in a pandemic has been even more of a challenge for businesses. A once thriving industry with an abundance of applicants may now find it hard to find the talent or the funds to hire an applicant may suddenly not be available.

Running a business is a challenge for every company but with the pandemic financial difficulty has been a common issue across the world and across many industries. Businesses initially had the funds to hire new employees, then the company takes an unforeseen hit and is no longer in the financial position to keep these new hires, so what can they do if this happens?

When considering terminating a contract of employment during the employees probationary period as a cost-saving measure, the company should first explore alternative options, for example, the availability of government assistance. Since the pandemic hit the UK Government has been trying to help businesses retain their employees through government assistance. It may be in the employer’s best interest to retain their employees during the pandemic in order to avoid having to repeat the recruitment process when the economic situation improves, especially if the employee is performing well in their role.

When new employees are hired every employee has a probationary period to allow both the employee and the employer see if they are a ‘good fit’. If an employer decides to proceed with terminating the contract of an employee on probation for economic reasons during the pandemic they must ensure the reasons for the dismissal are explained to the employee and correctly documented. Assuming the employee has less than two years’ service with the company they will be unable to claim unfair dismissal unless the dismissal was for an automatically unfair reason, for example, they could claim they were really dismissed for making a complaint about health and safety in the workplace. The employer will also need to be able to demonstrate that the dismissal was not discriminatory as dismissed employees do not need to have two years’ service to bring a discrimination claim.

The employer must give the employee their contractual notice or the statutory minimum which is set out in the Employment Rights Act 1996, section 86 (1), whichever is greater, or make payment in lieu of notice. If an employer makes payment in lieu of notice when it is not provided for under the contract of employment this will be a breach of contract and therefore they are unable to enforce any post-employment restrictive covenants. If there is a contractual dismissal procedure the employer must follow this in order to avoid a claim for breach of contract.

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