A to Z of employment law
Maz Dannourah

F-J

F is for Fixed-term contracts

G is for Grievances

H is for Holidays

I is for Implied contract terms

J is for Job description

Fixed-term contracts

A fixed-term contract is one which usually ends automatically on a given date (the employer does not have to give notice).   If an employer ends a contract before the stated end-date and there are no provisions for doing so in the contract, they may be in breach of contract.

If a contract is not renewed, it is treated as a ‘dismissal’ and the employer must show that their reason for not renewing the contract is ‘fair’.  If the employee has two years of service, the non-renewal of the contract could, in some circumstances, amount to an unfair dismissal if no procedure is followed or fair reason given. Employees have the right to written reasons if they have served more than two years.

If an employee on a fixed-term contract continues working after the end-date, it is implied that there has been an agreement between the employer and the employee to extend the contract – the employer still needs to give notice to end the contract. (Minimum periods of notice: after one month’s continuous service, but less than two years - one week; after two years’ continuous employment - one week for each year worked.)  Provisions in fixed-term contracts for notice to be given to terminate the agreement should be considered and reviewed carefully prior to the contract being signed.

An employee on a fixed-term contract of more than four years will automatically become a permanent employee unless the employer can demonstrate good reason for not doing so.

Grievances

A grievance is a problem or concern raised by an employee about their workplace.

All employers should have a grievance procedure in place which is communicated to all staff as part of induction procedures.  The procedures should be fair and clear, explaining each stage of the process.

The procedures are usually an escalating series of measures, perhaps starting with an informal conversation and finishing with a final hearing.  It should also include the option for appeals.  Hopefully most grievances can be solved at an early stage and without even starting the formal procedure, but it is important to have the procedures in place and, just as importantly, follow them should a grievance arise.

Employees have the right to be accompanied at grievance hearings, but not the right to call witnesses.

One of the most important things to remember when going through a grievance process is to make detailed notes of any meetings as they could be called upon should the grievance escalate to a Tribunal.

The ACAS web site (www.acas.org.uk) has very good sample grievance procedures on which an employer could base its own.

Holidays

Holidays and holiday pay are two of the terms that must be included in an employee’s written statement of terms and conditions of employment, or employment contract.

According to the Working Time Regulations, every worker (i.e. not just employees) is entitled to 5.6 weeks’ statutory holiday per year.  This equates to 28 days for someone who works a five day week. Anything over this is agreed between the employer and the employee. If a worker joins half way through the year, they should receive half the holiday entitlement.

Part-time workers receive the same on a pro-rata basis. If the holiday entitlement is inclusive of public holidays, part-time workers should be given a pro-rata entitlement to public holidays regardless of whether they normally work on days on which the holidays fall.

Employees have no legal rights to take time off on bank and other public holidays – these can be included in the annual leave entitlement.  If this is the case, it should be clearly stated in the contract of employment.  However, the right to have these days off could be an implied term via custom and practice or industry standards (see below).

In staff handbooks, employers should state clearly their policies on holidays.

  • How much notice is required?
  • Can holiday be refused – if so, in what circumstances?
  • What happens when an employee does not use their annual entitlement?
  • What happens when an employee leaves if they have used more than their pro-rata holiday?
  • What happens if staff are late back from their holiday?

Holidays and their booking can be a source of staff conflict if policies and procedures are not clearly defined, and all employers would be well advised to make sure that their holiday policy is clear and well communicated to their staff.

Implied contract terms

Whilst most of the terms of a contract are contained in the contract itself, a contract between an employer and employee is also governed by implied terms.  A term could be implied because it is so obvious that it does not need to be written: for example, that an employee will not steal from the employer.

Terms can also be implied by custom and practice – ie, it is normal practice for that term to be included in a contract.  For example, it would be an implied term that an HGV driver required an HGV licence.

There are other implied terms which are central to the employee/employer relationship.  Some of the most important ones include:

For employees: honesty; not to disclose trade secrets; working with care.

For employers: to take care of employees’ health and safety; to pay an agreed remuneration; to deal with grievances.

For both employers and employees: not to destroy the relationship of trust; to give reasonable notice of termination if nothing specific has been agreed.

Whilst most implied terms are ‘common sense’, employers should be aware of implied terms, as they hold just the same importance as those written in the contract.

Job description

A job description details the tasks and duties expected of a job-holder.  It may also include reporting lines, team structures, skills required for the position and sometimes a salary band.

Job descriptions are very useful throughout the employment process.  Before recruitment, they can help to focus the employer’s mind on what skills they require for a position and assist in drafting a more effective advertisement for it.  At CV and interview stage, a job description is something to gauge the strengths and weaknesses of candidates against and can help to filter a long list down to a shorter one for consideration.

A job description should always be kept up to date.  It is important to bear in mind that roles change as a business evolves and an annual review of the job description, perhaps at appraisal time, is good practice.   It also gives the employee and employer something to base their discussions on during the appraisal.

The job description may also include specific qualities required by the job-holder, although this can sometimes be better contained within a person-specification, as this then separates the function of the job from the person doing it.

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