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Doing business in the UK: Staff welfare

21 February 2012
by Ina Dimireva -- last modified 30 March 2012

Labour legislation covers basic workplace standards which employers must follow. These include protection against discrimination, the right to equal pay and the national minimum wage.


Legal requirements

Labour legislation covers basic workplace standards which employers must follow. These include:

  • protection against discrimination
  • the right to equal pay
  • the national minimum wage
  • paid holiday entitlements
  • limits on working hours
  • the right to a safe and healthy working environment

Social rules

Non-discrimination, equal treatment and gender equality

An employer must not discriminate in recruitment or selection procedures or in day-to-day business. This covers gender, sexual orientation, marital status, race, colour, age, nationality, ethnic origin, religion etc.

Equality Act 2010

Equality Commission for Northern Ireland - Legislation

The right to equal pay includes:

  • basic wages;
  • bonus payments;
  • company health insurance;
  • pensions;
  • maternity pay;
  • training;
  • career development.

Equal pay for men and women is covered by the Equal Pay Act 1970.

The Equal Pay Act 1970 (Amendment) Regulations 2003

Equal pay for work of equal value - Business Link

Health and safety at work

Businesses have a legal duty to ensure the health and safety of employees and other people affected by their business activities such as customers and suppliers.

The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 is the primary piece of legislation covering occupational health and safety in the UK. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is responsible for enforcing the Act and a number of other Acts and Statutory Instruments relevant to the working environment.

Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974

The right approach however is not just about doing the minimum required to comply with the legal requirements. It can also benefit your business. Poor health and safety leads to illness and accidents and significant costs for businesses.

Effective health and safety practices pay for themselves. They also improve a company's reputation with customers, regulators and their own employees.

Health and Safety Guidance - Business Link

Health and Safety Business Benefits guidance - HSE

Labour law

Employment Contract

The moment an applicant unconditionally accepts the offer of a job, a contract of employment comes into existence. The terms of the contract can be verbal , written , implied or a mixture of all three.

Even if the company does not issue a written contract, it is under a legal duty to provide most employees with a written statement of main employment particulars within two months of the start of their employment.

If an employee is going to work abroad for more than a month within two months of starting work, the written statement must be given to an employee before he or she leaves.

The written statement is not itself the contract but it can provide evidence of the terms and conditions of employment between the employer and the employee if there is a dispute later on.

The Employment Contract - Business Link

Labour relations

Working hours in the UK are currently determined by national Working Time Regulations . These limit the average working week to 48 hours, but UK workers can also choose to work more hours if they wish.

Working time - Business Link

Working Time Regulations enforcement is split between different authorities. The limits on working time and health assessments of night workers are enforced by the:

  • Health and Safety Executive
  • Local authority environmental health departments
  • Civil Aviation Authority (CAA)
  • Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA)
  • Office of Rail Regulation (ORR)

The entitlements to rest and leave are enforced through Employment Tribunals.

Almost all workers above school leaving age - not just employees but also, for example, agency and casual workers - are entitled to 5.6 weeks' paid holiday per leave year (28 days for a worker working a five-day week). The 5.6 weeks is a minimum entitlement.

Employers must set out leave and holiday pay entitlements in a written statement, so that employees can calculate entitlements for themselves. This includes untaken holiday pay when they leave. Employers must also inform staff in writing of any increased holiday entitlements.

Statutory holiday entitlement - Business Link

Working hours and time off - Business Link

Staff holiday entitlements calculator - Business Link

The Employment Act 2008 strengthens, simplifies and clarifies key aspects of UK employment law. The Act brings together both elements of the UK Government's employment relations strategy - increasing protection for vulnerable workers and lightening the load for law-abiding businesses.

Employment Act 2008

If an employee takes time off from work due to illness, he/she might be entitled to sick pay. There are two types of sick pay:

Statutory Sick Pay

Company sick pay (also called contractual or occupational sick pay)

Guidance on how to deal with grievances and disciplinary procedures that might arise with employees is available on the Business Link website.

Grievances and disciplinary issues

Businesses are free to go beyond the minimum social legal requirements at their own initiative.


The UK's Health and Safety Executive has a range of tools available to help businesses comply with health and safety rules and guidance per sector.

Health and Safety Executive

The Business Link website provides information on social security issues, national insurance contributions and many other areas related to employing staff.

Business Link - Employing staff

Employees also have the right to ask employers for information to help them determine whether or not they are receiving equal pay. To do so, an 'Equal Pay ' questionnaire must be completed.

Equal Pay Questionnaire [130 KB] [.doc]

The Employment Agency Standards inspectorate (EAS) works with agencies, employers, and workers to ensure compliance with employment rights, particularly for vulnerable agency workers.

Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate (EAS)

Legal texts

Employment Relations Act 2004

Equality Act 2010

Anti discrimination legislation for Northern Ireland

Equal Pay Act 1970 (Amendment) Regulations 2003

Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974

National Minimum Wage Act (NMWA 1998)

Employment Act 2002 (Dispute Resolution) Regulations 2004

Working Time Regulations 1998

Source: European Commission