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Employment Law in the United Kingdom – what differences are there?

We thought we’d look in detail at the main differences in Employment Law between England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Generally there is very little difference in employment law between England and Wales, some differences in Scotland but there are some important differences for employees and employers in Northern Ireland.

[Updated 2015]

Here we summarise the main differences but if you want specific advice you can use (from the Citizens Advice Bureau) which lets you choose the country you need advice for.

Employment law in Northern Ireland

Mostly the law is similar to England, Wales and Scotland but the main difference is that the law is devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly. Some rules will be found in a different piece of legislation (to the rest of the UK), sometimes only a portion of the rules will apply in Northern Ireland and often the rules apply from a different date. So, for example the following differences apply:

  • The Agency Workers Regulations which came into force on 1st October 2011 in England/Scotland/Wales (Great Britain) only came into force in Northern Ireland on 5th December 2011.

  • The 1 year qualifying period to claim unfair dismissal still applies (this was increased to 2 years in Great Britain from April 2012).

  • The consultation period when companies need to make redundancies remain at 90 days where 100+ employees are affected (this was reduced to 45 days in GB in 2013).

  • The statutory dispute / disciplinary procedure that was repealed in Great Britain in April 2009 has not been repealed in Northern Ireland and so the 3-step statutory dismissal and disciplinary procedure still applies for any disciplinary action and dismissals relating to conduct, capability, redundancy and non-renewal of a fixed term contract in Northern Ireland. The steps in brief are –

    • Step One: the Employer must set out in writing the employee’s alleged misconduct and invite them to a meeting to discuss this

    • Step Two: a meeting is held when the employee has had reasonable time to consider their response and the employer listens to the employees’ response. After the meeting the employer must write to the employee informing them of their decision and telling the employee they have a right of appeal against the decision if they wish.

    • Step Three: the employee tells the employer they wish to appeal and the employer must hold a further meeting, after which they must tell the employee of their decision.

  • The ACAS code of practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures that applies in Great Britain does not apply in Northern Ireland – the Labour Relations Agency of Northern Ireland has an equivalent (but more detailed) code that was introduced on 3rd April 2011.

  • ACAS does not operate in Northern Ireland (the Labour Relations Agency do instead).

  • The statutory grievance procedure that was repealed in Great Britain in April 2009 was repealed in Northern Ireland on 3rd April 2011.

  • In Northern Ireland, Employment Tribunals are still called Industrial Tribunals and they operate differently.

  • The Health and Safety at Work Act of 1974 was introduced in Northern Ireland in 1978.

  • The Equality Act 2010 that covers England, Scotland, Wales, is covered in Northern Ireland by –

    • Equal Pay Act (NI) 1970

    • Sex Discrimination (NI) Order 1976

    • Disability Discrimination Act 1995

    • Race Relations Order 1997

    • Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (NI) 2003

    • Employment Equality (AGE) Regulations (NI) 2006.

In addition Northern Ireland has the Fair Employment and Treatment (NI) Order 1998 (protection on grounds of religious belief and political opinion) which has no direct equivalent legislation in the rest of the UK.

While Great Britain’s Equality Act 2010 prohibits discrimination against religion or belief, the Fair Employment and Treatment Order exists to protect employees and job applicants and others in Northern Ireland against discrimination on the grounds of religious belief and/or political opinion. The 1998 Order was amended in 2003 to comply with the European Union’s Equal Treatment Directive relating to discrimination on grounds of religion or belief.

The Fair Employment and Treatment Order also requires that:

  • Private sector Employers with more than 10 employees (who work over 16 hours per week) must register with the Equality Commission of Northern Ireland and then monitor the religious composition of their workforce and job applicants and file an annual return to the Equality Commission.

  • Employers must also carry out reviews of their workforce composition at least once every 3 years, covering recruitment, training and promotion. If the Commission decides that that fair participation is not being offered the Employer must remedy the situation with appropriate affirmative action.

Employment law in Scotland

While Scotland has devolved powers for some parliamentary affairs (e.g. health, education, the courts system etc) it does not have powers over employment legislation which is still controlled by Parliament in Westminster.

However, some differences do exist in the employment field. These include:

  • Scotland has additional bank holidays on 2nd January and on 30th November (St Andrews’ Day) but does not have a Bank Holiday on Easter Monday.

  • Scotland has slightly different Employment Tribunals procedures than England and Wales – including that witness statements are not generally used in Scotland, but verbal evidence given only. Once a case is referred up from an Employment Appeal Tribunal in England and Wales it will be referred to a Court of Appeal, but in Scotland it will be referred to the Court of Session. Employment Law judgements made in Scotland’s Court of Session are not binding in England/Wales (and vice versa at the Court of Appeal) although usually considered persuasive in legal decisions.

  • In early 2015 it became clear that the administration and funding of employment tribunals in Scotland is going to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament in due course, which may mean the Tribunal fees may be abolished in Scotland. Some believe this may lead to ‘jurisdictional tourism’ where, if Employers have bases UK wide and have employees who work in England/Wales and Scotland they could choose to go to Tribunal in Scotland to avoid the fees.

  • Although the Scottish Court system is separate from that of England and Wales the final Court of Appeal in civil cases in all of the UK is the Supreme Court in London.

  • The Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) is a completely separate organisation to the TUC in England and Wales.

  • Because there is a difference in the school leaving age in Scotland this affects the National Minimum Wage in terms of when an individual should start to receive it. The National Minimum Wage becomes payable when an individual is no longer of compulsory school age and:

“In England and Wales this is the last Friday of June in the school year in which their 16th birthday falls.”

From the start of the 2013/14 Academic year the Government changed the law on how long young people are required to stay in education or training – the details are here.

“In Scotland there are 2 possible leaving dates – if a child turns 16 between 1st March and 30th September he/she may leave school on 31st May of that year; or if a child turns 16 between 1st October and 28th February of the following year, he/she may leave school on the first day of the Christmas holidays.”

  • Criminal Record checks in England and Wales are conducted by the Criminal Records Bureau but in Scotland by Disclosure Scotland.

If you are an Employer and need ongoing professional help with any staff/freelance issues then talk to Lesley at The HR Kiosk – a Human Resources Consultancy for small businesses – our fees are low to reflect the pressures on small businesses and you can hire us for as much time as you need.

Please note that the advice given on this website and by our Advisors is guidance only and cannot be taken as an authoritative or current interpretation of the law. It can also not be seen as specific advice for individual cases.

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