How to handle new legislation a guide for employers

Written by
Changeboard Team

28 May 2010

28 May 2010 • by Changeboard Team

Employment law preparation

As an employer, its important for you to know about these developments before your employees come to you and catch you off guard in relation to any new changes and new rights.

Put simply, a failure to implement legislation properly can be an expensive mistake to make. The consequences will vary depending on the legal right you have infringed, but an employee will often be entitled to compensation. In addition to the compensation, there will be both administrative and legal costs as well the cost of management time in dealing with any claims. Aside from the financial costs, a failure to implement new legislation can put you in a bad light with your workforce and result in low morale and respect.

By the time an employee does approach you about his or her new employment right, it may be too late to properly deal with the situation. New legislation is usually announced months, if not years, before it is implemented. Generally, the government takes care not to surprise employers with new legislation and this should theoretically mean that you have enough time to prepare as long as you know where to look.

Whose responsibility to keep up to date?

The first thing to think about is whose responsibility it is to keep up to date with legal developments. This sounds like a very basic point, but dont skip past it too quickly alarmingly a recent survey of small to medium enterprises showed that two-thirds of those expected to keep up to date didnt even realise it was their job to do so. 

Employers should identify whose role it is to keep up to date and make sure that the responsibility is clearly allocated to that person and that person made aware of their responsibility (it may be a shared responsibility). Employers should then put into place a clear structure as to how the information will be fed back to those who need to know and in particular those who will be implementing legal developments.

HR publications & legal newsletters

Once you know who has to keep updated and if youre reading this then its probably you you will need to know the best way of doing so. A good starting point is to have a look at specialist publications for HR professionals. They will usually cover updates to employment legislation. While these may be a useful starting point, you should not rely solely on this and you should follow this reading up by getting more specific information and advice as to how the changes will impact your particular business.

Legal newsletters are another useful source of information. These are usually free, and because they tend to cover the hot topics of the moment, they can provide a handy memory jog at just the right time. They will also tend to cover case law developments, which, by their very nature are difficult to anticipate and plan for.

Employment law seminars & training

If you want a more interactive experience then look out for employment seminars again these are run by law firms and are often free. You can pick and choose which of these you attend and they will give you an opportunity to question legal experts on a given topic.

Training courses can provide a similar interactive experience and the advantage of training is that it can be tailored to suit your particular requirements. In-house training can be particular useful to train managers and team leaders on changes to legislation which they may be responsible for implementing and following.

Implementing employment law developments

Knowing what legal changes are around the corner is important, but it is of limited use unless you also know how to deal with the resulting issues that will arise. Very often, the government will produce guidance booklets to accompany new employment legislation. There may be separate guidance for employers and employees and they will usually contain very practical information on how the legislation will affect your business. However, government guidance will have a wide and general application and so it will not address any issues that are specific to your business for example, how to fit the legislation in with your existing policies and practices. 

To be sure that you are implementing employment law developments properly, it is sensible to speak to a legal advisor. They will be able to tell you which of your policies need to be updated and how to avoid any possible pitfalls. A good solicitor should not simply recite the law to you and should instead be able to work with your business to find practical solutions to any new issues that arise.  

Another consideration should be how you will communicate the latest legal developments to your staff. Many changes will directly affect your staff and may even require changes to the terms of their employment contracts. Changing terms and conditions of employment is not an easy task and it is best to seek advice from a legal advisor as to the best way to implement a change to the contract. You should inform your staff if your policies are being updated to take account of new legislation. While you may take the view that you do not want to publicise the new rights that your staff are entitled to, in practice it is generally unavoidable and in actual fact, by informing your employees of their new rights can improve employee morale.

Staying updated

Unfortunately keeping up to date with employment law developments is not a one-off exercise. New legislation is continuously being introduced and case law decisions can alter the Courts interpretation of the law at any time. For this reason, you should ensure that a process is in place to constantly monitor employment law updates.

In order to ensure compliance, you will probably wish to use a variety (if not all) of the tools suggested in this article. It is your responsibility as an employer to know your legal obligations, so make sure you do so before your employees read about them in their Sunday papers.