Legal Article - Employment Law

The Human Rights Act 1998

This Act allows UK law courts to enforce the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. The Act makes it unlawful for a public authority to act in a way which is incompatible with a Convention right. The most important of these for employers are:

• Article 4 – prohibiting slavery and forced labour

• Article 6 – the right to a fair trial

• Article 8 – the right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence

• Article 9 - freedom of thought, conscience and religion

• Article 10 - freedom of expression

• Article 11 - freedom of assembly and association including the right to join a trade union

• Article 14 - the right not to suffer discrimination in the enjoyment of rights under the convention.

The Act does not apply directly to the private sector and workers cannot take their employer to court for infringement of these rights. However, employment tribunals and other courts have to interpret existing employment law, wherever possible, in a way that is compatible with these rights.
These rights must not be enforced in a way that will prevent different people from enjoying similar or other rights e.g. the employee’s right to privacy and the employer’s right to reasonable rules governing the work environment, and must be proportionate in that they can be ignored if the employer has sound and objective business reasons for a policy or practice that infringes a person’s right e.g. a woman wishing to work part-time for family reasons but the nature of the job prevents part-time work.

Some work areas where these rights may have an impact is on the observance of religious festivals etc., dress and appearance codes, any discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, excessive working hours, and flexibility issues at work. These issues will be of particular importance if they are a factor in a person’s dismissal. It is unlikely, however, to have much impact on the private sector for some considerable time.

Published: 27 May 2011

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