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Recruitment, contracts, discipline and grievance

Having set procedures for recruiting and managing staff doesn’t just make the processes easier for you and your team – many are required by law. You must be aware of the rules and regulations about your employees’ rights and other key elements of employment law

Anti-discrimination measures 

You must not discriminate – however unintentionally – at any stage of the recruitment process or during employment. Discrimination on grounds of race, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, disability, age, religion, marital status, pregnancy, parental responsibilities, philosophical or political belief or trade union membership is illegal. All employees should be treated equally and in accordance with their legal rights. 

You must not pay one employee more for doing the same work as another who receives less. Claim for equal pay for equal value work can be backdated at tribunal. Employment tribunals have no limit regarding how much they can award to employees who successfully bring discrimination claims. 

Employers are legally responsible for acts of discrimination by their employees, so don’t tolerate it within your business. 

Job adverts must not imply favouritism to one type of person over another. Focus purely on the contribution the role must make to your business. 

At job interviews, only ask about a candidate’s knowledge, skill and experience. Don’t ask personal questions (eg "Do you plan to get pregnant soon?") and make sure your final decision has been made for fair and justifiable reasons. A candidate can ask why they haven’t been offered the job. Legally, they can also ask to see your interview notes, too – so be careful. 

Employment contracts 

An employment contract exists as soon as you offer someone a job. In this instance, you should state that the contract is governed by written employment terms and conditions you’ll provide later. A contract can be conditional on your being satisfied with a candidate’s references. 

By law, you must give a new employee written employment terms and conditions within two months of their start date, although it’s advisable to do it as soon as they start (or even in advance). 

These must detail job title, place of work, main duties/responsibilities, pay (plus any bonuses, pension, etc), hours, holiday entitlement and notice period. You must also include details of your discipline and grievance procedures. 

You can reserve the right to amend the job description and place of work. However, to change the terms of the contract, you need seek the employee’s agreement. 

Discipline and grievance  

You must have effective discipline and grievance procedures in place. Draw up an employment policy or staff handbook, outlining key information employees should know. Also include the name of the manager (quite possibly you) they should speak to if they have a grievance. 

You can’t sack someone on the spot unless the circumstances are exceptional. If an employee makes a serious disciplinary transgression, bring it to their attention immediately and allow them the opportunity to explain. If a serious problem persists, issue a verbal warning. If that fails, issue a written warning. Thereafter, sacking an employee could be your only option. 

If necessary, seek professional advice before taking disciplinary action against an employee – otherwise they could claim unfair dismissal. Ring the Acas Helpline on 08457 47 47 47 for advice on dispute resolution. The organisation has also drafted a guide to discipline and grievances at work.

You should also bear in mind your responsibilities regarding pay and conditions, maternity and paternity payments and safety. You can find out more in the overview on employment rights.

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Find further information and resources on the legal aspects of recruitment and employment contracts on the Law Donut.