The Employment Rights Act of 1996 is a law, still in force, that protects labor in the United Kingdom, which includes Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Specific rights are spelled out for all types of workers, and an Employment Tribunal set up by London where labor can take cases and complaints. This Act tightens previous labor legislation and adds many details not dealt with in the earlier Acts.


The first part of this law deals with contracts. Contracts are central to this law because many — though not all — aspects of this bill can be voided if the employee agrees to the provision in the contract before starting work. In general, if an employee agrees to it and it is not otherwise explicitly outlawed, it is legal and the employee has no legal recourse against it. The contract must include itemized wages and deductions, possibly disciplinary actions, forbidden actions and pension rights. The contract can be changed if a union works successfully to gain more concessions from an employer.


An employer can make no deductions in wages unless it is spelled out in the contract. Employers cannot act arbitrarily with wages, and all contracts must contain a detailed list of reasons why money can be deducted from a worker's paycheck. Nonperformance of duties is always a reason whether it is spelled out or not. Penalties exacted by an employer can never exceed one-tenth of a worker's daily wage. There are some possible exceptions for when an employer is simply out of money or in financial trouble. Many of these issues can be refereed to the Employment Tribunal for arbitration if necessary.


Workers are asked to report on their employers if illegal activity or serious safety violations are observed on the job. The worker must act in good faith, and there must never be personal gain involved in reporting an erring employer. In other words, an employer, if she can prove that the worker is acting from personal motives, can have the case removed from the Tribunal. The worker must have reasonable cause to believe the accusation to be true. If the accusation is made and there is real merit to the case, the worker is protected by this law from dismissal or other disciplinary action as a result.

Rights And Protections

The remainder of this law is made up of specific protections for labor. Issue areas such as unfair dismissal are taken up in detail. An employer cannot remove an employee for family leave, job-related education and training, and public duties such as jury appearances. Paternal and maternal leave is protected, including adoptive parents. The retirement age is 65 years, but the law is clear that contracts can specify otherwise. Retirement is protected in that it can never be used as an excuse for dismissal. All other disciplinary problems with an employee are removed at the legal retirement age to protect the worker from being dismissed just before retirement, which might void any pension payments and other benefits.