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

Posted by Lesley Furber on May 1st, 2019 | Employment law

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

This is because employment law for Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) is not devolved from Westminster, but employment law is devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly (and has been since 1988).

Here we summarise the main differences, as at July 2019, but if you want specific advice you can use adviceguide.org.uk (from the Citizens Advice Bureau) for advice about employment law in England, Scotland and Wales; for Northern Ireland you can find advice at NIDirect or the Labour Relations Agency.

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Employment law in Northern Ireland

Mostly the law is similar to England, Wales and Scotland (GB) but 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. At the moment, 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 Statutory Right to request time off for training is not applicable in Northern Ireland
  • Flexible Working – in Northern Ireland Employers must still use the ‘statutory procedure’ for handling Flexible Working requests; this was repealed in England, Scotland and Wales in June 2014. You can read more details here
  • The Statutory Redundancy Pay you can receive in Great Britain is currently calculated using a maximum of £525 per week, but the limit in Northern Ireland is £547 (for 2019/20). The maximum statutory redundancy payment that can be paid is £16,410 in Northern Ireland but £15,750 in the rest of Great Britain
  • In 2015 ‘exclusivity clauses’ in zero hours contracts were made unenforceable in Great Britain (and from 2016 a worker in GB who is dismissed from a zero-hours contract for breaching any such exclusivity clause will be found to be automatically dismissed) but there are no such regulations on exclusivity clauses in NI, although there may be in the future if the NI Assembly resumes.
    Amendments made to whistleblowing legislation in GB in 2013, where not implemented in NI until 1st October 2017
  • In March 2016 changes were made to the Trade Union Act in GB. These have not yet been implemented in NI
  • Gender Pay Gap Reporting was introduced in GB in April 2017, and although this was meant to apply to NI in June 2017, it has not yet happened as the NI Assembly is still suspended
  • The legislation introduced in GB in 2015 that limits backdated holiday pay claims (when holiday pay has not been calculated correctly) to a maximum of 2 years does not apply in NI
  • In 2013, compromise agreements were renamed Settlement Agreements and reforms to the process of offering and agreeing Settlement Agreements was made in GB. In Northern Ireland these provisions do not apply and compromise agreements are still used
  • The Statutory limits on payments and awards made because of breaches of the Trade Union Labour Relations Act 1992 and the Employment Rights Act 1996 do not apply in NI, which sets its own rates
  • The one year qualifying period to claim unfair dismissal still applies (this was increased to two 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 hasn’t been repealed in Northern Ireland and so the three-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 where 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 (they have the Labour Relations Agency do instead)
  • The statutory grievance procedure that was repealed in Great Britain in April 2009 was also repealed in Northern Ireland on 3rd April 2011; and the Labour Relations Agency Code of Practice should be followed (although it is not legally binding) by Employers when handling grievances
  • Regulation 3.1(b) of the TUPE (Transfer of Undertakings) Regulations 2006, as amended in 2014, – which related to changes of service provider – doesn’t apply in Northern Ireland, so the original 2006 Regulations apply
  • In Northern Ireland, Employment Tribunals are still called Industrial Tribunals and they operate differently. Decisions made by NI Tribunals are not binding on the rest of the UK. Appeals from an Industrial Tribunal and the Fair Employment Tribunal in NI are heard at the NI Court of Appeal (there are no Employment Appeal Tribunals in NI) and ultimately any further appeal is made to the UK Supreme Court
  • In GB, since 2014, anyone wishing to make a claim to an Employment Tribunal must first contact ACAS. In NI you can proceed directly to an Industrial Tribunal. A requirement to contact the LRA with a view to conciliation was to be introduced in 2017, but this has not yet happened
  • Northern Ireland has never introduced Employment Tribunal fees (they were introduced in GB in 2013 and abolished in 2017)
  • The Health and Safety at Work Act of 1974 was introduced in Northern Ireland in 1978
  • Criminal Record checks in Northern Ireland are done by AccessNI (in England and Wales they are done by the Disclosure and Barring Service)
  • Bank holidays are also different
  • 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 (Irish Travellers are designated as a separate racial group under these laws)
    • 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, 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 three years, covering recruitment, training and promotion. If the Commission decides that that fair participation isn’t being offered, the Employer must remedy the situation with appropriate affirmative action.

Fair Employment Tribunals (not Industrial Tribunals) deal specifically with cases of discrimination on the grounds of religious beliefs or political opinions in Northern Ireland.

Employment law in Scotland

While Scotland has devolved powers for some parliamentary affairs (e.g. health, education, the courts system etc) it doesn’t 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 or Easter Monday
  • Scotland has slightly different Employment Tribunals procedures than England and Wales – including that witness statements aren’t 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’ll be referred to a Court of Appeal, but in Scotland it’ll be referred to the Court of Session. Employment Law judgements made in Scotland’s Court of Session aren’t 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 of employment tribunals in Scotland would eventually be devolved to the Scottish Parliament. Currently the target date for transfer is early 2020, however this is not yet confirmed.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
  • The Apprenticeship Levy came into force in April 2017, but apprenticeship funding works differently in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland
  • Because there’s 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 two 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 Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) but in Scotland they are done 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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