Employment lawyers

Employment law for employers

Your workforce is the essence of your business and needs to be effective. The challenge can come from the fact that employment law is dynamic and rapidly evolving with a constant stream of new rules and regulations. As the employer, you want to be in a good place for recruiting and retaining employees as well as dismissing them fairly should the need arise.

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Make an enquiry Pragmatic advice to move your business forward

Our Employment Lawyers have the expertise and experience to help you navigate and adapt to the changing landscape and provide innovative solutions. We work closely with many types of clients including large companies, SMEs, owner-managed businesses and start-ups across a wide range of sectors providing advice on a variety of issues, whether they are HR-related, strategic, complex or contentious.

We get to know your business, working practices, culture and commercial objectives. This enables us to provide tailored and pragmatic advice to help your organisation move forward and minimise HR headaches and disruption. Where possible we promote the early resolution of employment disputes but, when this cannot be achieved, we guide you through the litigation process with a commitment to delivering the best possible result for your business.

Our Employment team provides both a highly proactive and pragmatic client service and is experienced in all aspects of employment law.

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Make an enquiry Recruitment Law

Employees are a valuable asset for any business and your relationship with them starts from the very first job advertisement. Creating an effective hiring and selection policy, in full accordance with recruitment law, makes it easier to recruit a well-structured team and avoid making harmful or potentially discriminatory decisions.

What legal issues do employers face in recruitment?

Our specialist recruitment law solicitors can help protect your rights from the very first interaction. Common issues include:

  • Lengthy and complex recruitment processes that are rife with discrimination risks
  • Understanding which ‘positive action’ steps can be lawfully taken to encourage candidates from under-represented groups
  • Overcoming bias during the screening and interview process
  • The legalities of choosing a candidate who has a protected characteristic over one who does not
  • Diversity and discrimination in recruitment law
  • Right to work laws if you are recruiting candidates from overseas
  • Recruitment outsourcing and agency disputes
  • Recruiting gig economy workers and contractors within or outside IR35

How can our recruitment law team help?

Our recruitment law team has a real understanding of the commercial needs of your business and we deliver our advice accordingly. We can advise on one-time issues or act as an extension of your HR team, offering robust recruitment support on legislation to ensure your business is compliant of your obligations during each stage of the recruitment process.

Should a dispute arise in regards to recruitment, we can give you the best legal representation, taking claims to the Employment Tribunal and to court where appropriate. We have a reputation for offering fast, creative solutions to recruitment disputes. It’s our job to minimise disruption to your business so that you can concentrate on recruiting the best candidate for your job.

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Make an enquiry TUPE

The Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 protects employee rights if a business changes ownership and during other types of restructuring.

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Make an enquiry Restructuring & Redundancy

It is a tough decision to relocate or demote employees or make them redundant. But if you are closing down a branch, consolidating operations, or moving to a new site, then a certain number of job adjustments may be inevitable.

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Make an enquiry Employee Consultation

By law, employers must inform and consult with employees about certain matters. These matters will vary depending on the size of the organisation. Generally, the obligation is to:

  • Provide enough information that the employee group can fully understand the matters being consulted
  • Allow those consulted to express their views
  • Genuinely consider those views before making a final decision.

Consultation may be directly with employees or indirectly through trade unions, staff councils or employee representatives.

What do employers need to consult about?

A (non-exhaustive) list of some of the most common reasons are below:

  • Restructuring and redundancy – consultation with individual employees is fundamental to the fairness of the redundancy exercise. Where it’s intended to make 20 or more employees redundant within a 90-day period, collective consultation with unions is also required.
  • Changes to contractual terms – such as fire and hire where employees are dismissed and offered re-engagement on new contracts
  • Health and Safety – for example, the findings of a risk assessment.
  • Transfers under TUPE – employees must be consulted on who will be affected by the transfer and measures taken in connection with it
  • Pension changes to an employee pension scheme

 

How can Collyer Bristow help with employee consultation?

Consultation rules are complex and will vary from organisation to organisation and situation to situation. There is no single arrangement which will suit all businesses. Some of the key areas we can help with are:

  • Planning the employee consultation procedure that will best suit your business
  • Gathering any prescribed information to be provided
  • Drafting letters and holding town hall type meetings
  • Ensuring confidentiality and data protection compliance is observed
  • Establishing works councils
  • Defending complaints made by employees

We’ve worked with many organisations operating in different industries, including public organisations. We take the time to get to know your business so we can advise you on the best way forward to protect your interests, and preserve relationships with your employees.

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Make an enquiry Diversity & Discrimination

The Equality Act 2010 sets out nine characteristics, including sex, age and disability, that protect people from being discriminated against at work. Your organisation could face a costly Employment Tribunal claim, as well as reputation damage if your processes and workplace diversity initiatives (or lack of them) discriminate against certain employees.

Find out more

 

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Make an enquiry Governance Issues

Certain employers have an obligation to engage with employees and deliver more reporting about the workforce. Most of the rules apply to listed companies, but there are also requirements for many unlisted companies.

The rules are introduced through different sources, including the latest UK Corporate Governance Code. However, the general legislative push is towards giving employees a louder voice in the boardroom.

What does engagement mean under UK governance laws?

Engagement means different things depending on the size and type of organisation. For example, companies may need to step up and provide:

  • A director appointed from the workforce
  • A workforce advisory panel
  • A designated non-executive director to represent the interests of the workforce
  • A means for employees to raise concerns in confidence
  • Better reporting on various aspects of employee engagement and employees’ involvement in the company’s affairs

 

The various corporate governance codes also impose broad obligations on a company to justify executive pay, including by reference to pay ratios with the workforce, and explaining how executive pay aligns with wider company pay policy. These obligations may be extended in the future to include more formalised reporting on gender or ethnicity pay gaps.

How can we help with governance issues?

Governance rules usually apply on a ‘comply or explain’ basis, so every affected company needs to understand what their engagement and reporting obligations are. Our specialist governance lawyers can provide:

  • Detailed guidance on your governance obligations
  • Strategies for complying with those obligations
  • Employee information and consultation
  • Help with establishing staff councils
  • Defence of your position to both employees and the regulators
  • Help with avoiding legal missteps and penalties

 

We offer practical, realistic advice that goes beyond the letter of the law to protect your commercial interests. Clients come to us because we recognise the importance of negotiating carefully with employees, without damaging your workplace relationships. So whether you just need advice on your obligations, or representation in a complex governance dispute, we’re ready to support you.

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Make an enquiry NED Contracts 

Finding the right person to become a non-executive director of the company can be challenging and time-consuming for the board. Not only does the NED need to have appropriate experience, but they need to be fully on board with the role and duties you wish them to fulfill. They also need to be happy with the remuneration package that’s on offer, especially if the package includes company shares as this has tax considerations for both the NED and the company.

When writing an NED contract, it’s important to have expert solicitors by your side. We’ve helped companies of all sizes put the right contracts in place, making sure that everyone is clear on the

obligations that the NED will be under in their director capacity, and their reward.

What is a non-executive director?

There is no statutory definition of an NED, but they typically are required to devote part of their time to a company as an independent adviser. Businesses recruit NEDs to achieve growth in the company, plan for exit, or bring additional expertise to the board.

As directors, NEDs are subject to the usual rules of the boardroom including the statutory directors’ duties set out in the Companies Act 2006. Non-executive directors appointed to listed companies are also subject to the UK Corporate Governance Code.

What NED contract services do we offer?

We can advise on:

  • The terms of a NED contract
  • Remuneration and equity aspects, including taxation
  • Duties and liabilities
  • Conflict and competitor issues
  • Issues around switching from executive to non-executive status
  • Director disputes

 

NED contracts can involve many different areas of law – from employment to commercial, finance, competition, litigation, and more. As a full-service law firm, we’re ready to cover all these bases so you don’t have to shop around to get the bespoke advice you need.

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Make an enquiry LTIPS and Bonus Schemes

Long term incentive plans – LTIPS – provide a way for companies to reward their staff with shares or cash at a future date as long as certain conditions are met. Listed companies must follow the rules of the UK Corporate Governance Code and the Listing Authority when designing these arrangements. Other restrictions may apply depending on the type of bonus scheme involved.

What are long-term incentive plans?

LTIPs and bonus schemes give someone a right to acquire shares at some future date at a fixed price. They are usually offered to senior executives as a reward for driving company performance to a specified level, such as a percentage uplift in economic profit or growth in share value.

LTIPS come in all shapes and sizes. Most are structured as a nil-cost option where the participant can call for the transfer of shares at a certain point for free. Since there is no income tax trigger until the option is exercised, the parties will usually wish to negotiate a flexible arrangement so the participant has the flexibility to exercise the share option at a tax-favourable time.

How can we help with LTIPS?

LTIPs are complex arrangements requiring expertise in the areas of contract law, employment and taxation. Our teams work together to:

  • Design effective LTIPs arrangements
  • Determine which participants should benefit from the scheme
  • Negotiate performance goals and retention periods
  • Design clawback arrangements if an employee performs poorly or, for example, it is later discovered that profits have been misstated
  • Minimise the risk of disputes
  • Protect the company’s tax position

 

We’ve supported many businesses operating in different industries with their LTIPs and bonus schemes. We take the time to get to know your business so we can advise you on the best arrangements that suit you and the scheme’s participants while delivering on core goals such as company growth.

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Make an enquiry Dismissals

Employees with more than two years’ service have protection against unfair dismissal and can file a complaint with the Employment Tribunal if they are dismissed for potentially illegitimate reasons.

Unfair dismissal compensation can be up to a year’s gross pay, so it’s essential for employers to get it right.

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Make an enquiry Settlement Agreements

Our settlement agreements solicitors can help you negotiate the terms of an agreement, write an agreement, and monitor existing agreements to ensure the terms are still being met for the benefit of your business.

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Make an enquiry Employment Contracts

Our employment solicitors advise all types of employers nationwide. We can draft tight employment contracts that start your relationship off on the right foot while preventing problems from arising in the future.

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Make an enquiry Confidentiality Agreements

While the basics of a confidentiality agreement are usually uncontroversial, for employers, there’s a delicate balance to be struck in order to protect the company’s reputation without overstepping the mark.

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Make an enquiry Policies and Staff Handbooks

Your employment policies and procedures operate alongside your employment contracts to lay down the rules within which you expect your staff to work. Staff handbooks generally cover areas that do not naturally fit into contracts, such as the company’s position on parental leave, disciplinary and grievance policies, harassment, discrimination, sickness and flexible working.

Are employment policies and staff handbooks a legal requirement?

While employment policies and staff handbooks are not a legal requirement, it is certainly best practice to put them in place. These documents set out the rights and responsibilities of staff and ensure that:

  • Staff know what is expected of them
  • Rights and obligations keep up to date with employment law changes
  • The same employment policies apply to all persons, helping to prevent expensive discrimination claims
  • Dismissal, disciplinary and grievance procedures are clearly communicated, reducing unfair dismissal claims

 

Having clear policies on roles, responsibility, training, supervision and quality assurance will also assist with achieving any quality accreditation you apply for such as ISO 9001.

Do you need a lawyer to draft a staff handbook?

Employment policies can be contractual or non-contractual. If a staff handbook is expressed to be contractual, it will be treated as though all of its contents were written into your company’s employment contracts. If the employee or the employer fails to adhere to a policy, they may be liable for breach of contract. An employer who breaches their own policies leaves the door wide open to constructive dismissal claims.

A non-contractual staff handbook offers greater flexibility since they are not automatically included in an employment contract. However, that does not mean that, in the event of an Employment Tribunal claim, your handbook won’t come under scrutiny. If in doubt, it is always better to seek help from a legal professional.

We can help:

  • Advise on the most appropriate policies for your business
  • Prepare bespoke and jargon-free staff handbooks
  • Update existing staff handbooks to make sure they’re legally compliant
  • Help your business to deal with any claims arising from your employment policies and procedures

 

We’ve helped businesses of all sizes create staff handbooks. We’ll work with you to create employment policies and procedures that suit your organisation and serve as the go-to document for managers and staff.

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Make an enquiry Employee Relations

A positive climate of employee relations can be a significant factor in achieving long-term commercial success. Sadly, relationships with employees and trade unions can easily become strained, especially if your business is planning redundancies, pay freezes or changes to working conditions.

What is employee relations?

Employee relations is a broad term describing the relationship between employers and employees. We use it to describe both individual and collective relationships in the workplace. This recognises the fact that, while trade union influence is still an everyday reality in some industries, individual employee engagement is now a fundamental part of the employment relationship.

There are a wide range of legal provisions that apply when managing employee relations. For individuals, employment contracts, staff handbooks and employment policies govern the relationship, and these are subject to important legislation in the areas of quality, discrimination, dismissal and discipline handling.

For collective relationships, there are rules on collective bargaining, consultation and industrial action. Employers may work with recognised trade unions to negotiate pay and conditions, or to consult over structural changes such as TUPE transfers or redundancy.

What employee relations issues might employers face?

Since almost everything you do affects your employees, the scope of employee relations disputes is very wide. Common issues our solicitors can help you with include:

  • Developing an effective employee relations strategy
  • Communicating effectively with trade unions, employees representatives and staff
  • Trade union recognition
  • Collective bargaining
  • Defending union-backed industrial action
  • Employee consultations in TUPE and redundancy situations
  • Establishing works councils
  • Representing your business in litigation and Employment Tribunal claims

 

Our team advises high-profile clients on employee relations and collective bargaining issues. With our in-depth knowledge of labour law, we can help improve the quality of your working relations with employee representatives and unions – so they don’t bring your organisation to a halt.

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Make an enquiry Trade Union Recognition

What is trade union recognition?

When an employer recognises a trade union, it means that the employer will undertake collective bargaining with union representatives on certain issues, for example, pay levels, the allocation of work duties, and hiring, firing or suspending employees. This is known as collective bargaining.

Most employers will recognise a trade union voluntarily. If an employer refuses, the union is legally entitled to apply to the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC) for an order granting recognition if certain conditions are satisfied.

What does trade union recognition mean for my organisation?

Recognised unions enjoy a legal right to be provided with certain information by the employer so they can fully engage in collective bargaining. ACAS has produced a Code of Practice on what information an employer should provide. If the union is unhappy with the level of information-sharing, it may apply to the CAC for a disclosure order.

A recognition agreement with a trade union also means that the employer must consult with the union’s representatives on certain matters. These include:

  • TUPE transfers
  • Multiple redundancies
  • Pension scheme changes
  • Certain health and safety matters

How does a union get trade union recognition?

There are two ways in which a trade union may seek recognition:

  • By voluntary agreement from the employer; or
  • By the statutory procedure laid out in the Employment Relations Act 1999.

The statutory procedure involves an application to CAC, which decides whether to grant the trade union recognition or not. CAC uses various tests when making its decision including levels of membership within your organisation and ballot results.

The rules are complex and strict timetables govern these applications. However, as long as the rules are followed, the final decision on whether to recognise a trade union will rest with the CAC and the matter is, for the most part, taken out of an employer’s hands.

As such, it is often better for employers to reach agreement voluntarily rather than having the CAC impose an outcome against its wishes. Voluntary trade union recognition gives an employer more control over important decisions such as which group of employees should constitute a bargaining unit and what decisions they can consult in.

How can Collyer Bristow help with trade union recognition?

Work with us, and we will make sure that your trade union recognition agreement is well balanced and does not unduly restrict your commercial operations.

As well as voluntary trade union recognition agreements, we can support your CAC applications, threats of industrial action and terminating trade union recognition. Talk to us about your needs.

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Make an enquiry Gig Economy Issues

Asking freelancers to work for you on a self-employed basis makes it possible to improve flexibility while dramatically cutting operating costs. But it’s important that the label you give your ‘gig workers’ accurately reflects their legal status. Get it wrong, and your gig workers could become entitled to pay and benefits that you did not budget for.

How do you determine employment status in the gig economy?

The law provides for a spectrum of workplace relationships. At one end of the spectrum are employees, who have a wide range of employment protections. At the other end are self-employed independent contractors who have no employment protections at all.

‘Worker’ status is a halfway house between employee and self-employed status. Workers have fewer employment protections than employees, but they are entitled to the minimum wage, protection from discrimination, and whistleblower protections, among other things.

What do I need to think about when hiring gig economy employers?

Courts around the world have shown that they are not fooled by self-employment contracts, and instead are willing to give gig workers the rights they are entitled to. This has serious ramifications for employers who wish to engage individuals on a self-employed basis. Businesses need to think carefully about the structure of their operating models, because it’s what gig workers do day-to-day that determines the nature of the relationship, not the label or the job description set out in their contract.

At Collyer Bristow, we can help with:

  • Determining the status of gig workers
  • A review of your contracts to make sure that self-employed status stands up to scrutiny
  • Advice on workers rights
  • Tax issues, including income tax, NIC and VAT liability
  • IR35 issues
  • Representing at Employment Tribunals and in court
  • Defending your position with HMRC

 

We understand that the gig economy issues you face are unique to your organisation and how you operate your business. Our employment disputes team has the expertise to give you practical advice and strategies to help you avoid any major shocks and continue a positive relationship with all your workers.

Find out more in our overview of the gig economy.

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Make an enquiry Industrial Action

What is industrial action?

There is no right to strike in the UK. However, trade unions and their members do benefit from a wide range of statutory protections, including those set out in the Trade Union Act 2016. This Act contains a challenging and complex set of legal hurdles that unions must overcome whenever they wish to put pressure on their employers through strikes or other action.

What are an employer’s rights when it comes to industrial action?

Industrial action occurs when all or some of the members of a trade union either refuse to work or refuse to work in the way you want. The most obvious example is a strike, but it can also include other action such as picketing, overtime bans, and work to rule.

In theory, the 2016 Act should make it more difficult for unions to call strikes. There are strict legal rules for any strike to be lawful, including the support of members as determined by a lawful ballot with independent scrutiny, in which at least half the balloted workers have voted.

You do not have to pay employees who are on strike. However, it is automatically unfair to dismiss someone who’s taken part in any lawful industrial action within 12 weeks of the dismissal.

Employees who take part in unofficial industrial action – so-called wildcat strikes – are not protected from dismissal.

Do I need a lawyer to resolve the threat of industrial action?

Whether serious or not, the threat of industrial action can result in a highly charged workplace situation. If your organisation is facing these risks, there is no doubt that you will need specialist advice to stop the industrial unrest from escalating. Strikes and slowdowns can be extremely damaging to productivity, service delivery and your brand’s reputation, as well as causing significant financial damage in many cases.

Collyer Bristow’s specialist industrial action team can help in a number of ways, including:

  • Determining whether industrial action has been lawfully organised
  • Negotiating with trade unions
  • Injunctions to stop the action
  • If necessary, litigating the industrial action
  • Determining whether employees are acting in breach of contract and whether an employer is entitled to withhold pay
  • Formulating strategies to avoid future disputes strategy

We know the Trade Union Act 2016 inside out. Our expert team can give you clear and robust advice to help you negotiate through the complexities of industrial action, and achieve successful resolution with working relationships still intact.

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Make an enquiry Works Councils / Employee Forums

What is a works council?

All UK employers with 50 or more staff are required to establish a formal works council (also called a staff council or employee forum) if requested to do so. You can also set up a works council voluntarily, without a request from employees.

Once a request is made, the company and its employees have six months to come up with a formal agreement on how the staff council is going to run and what its remit will be.

Do I have to establish a works council?

There is no requirement for an employer to establish a works council unless a sufficient number of employees request it in writing. The ‘sufficient number’ is currently 2% of the workforce, although that number is adjusted for very small or very large organisations.

Before April 2020, the necessary level of support had been 10% of employees. This significant reduction indicates the government’ strong support for the establishment of works councils, as far fewer employees will now be required to make up a valid request.

What are an employer’s legal obligations towards a staff council?

Once a valid request is received, the parties are free to negotiate the type of council or forum they wish to create. This might be a staff council, an employee engagement forum, or a forum tied into trade union recognition agreements if specific conditions are met.

Once negotiated, the agreement is then formalised under an Information and Consultation (I&C) agreement. The employer must now inform and consult with the staff council on significant matters and decisions affecting the organisation. These commonly include:

  • Major changes to working conditions
  • Job prospects
  • The economic state of the business
  • Training
  • Health and safety
  • Staffing levels

 

If the parties cannot agree on the scope and mechanisms for the staff council, then a template set of rules will automatically apply. Since these rules do not support the need of employers to be able to make swift commercial decisions, without having to consult on every small matter, it is far better to negotiate openly with employees and secure the best terms for your business.

How can Collyer Bristow support with employee forums and staff councils?

Establishing a staff council does not mean you have to change any business decisions you plan to take. But you do have to share information and openly listen to the council’s feedback and concerns. As a minimum, this will slow and compromise certain aspects of decision making.

The employment team at Collyer Bristow can help you meet these challenges head-on. Talk to our experienced lawyers about establishing an arrangement you can live with, and that adds value to your decisions making, rather than relying on a template agreement that potentially will compromise your ability to run your business.

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Make an enquiry Employment Tribunal Proceedings

Our specialist Employment Tribunals team has successfully defended many claims so you can trust that we have the expertise needed to protect your best interests.

Find out more.

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Make an enquiry IR35 Guidance

What are the IR35 rules?

IR35 off-payroll rules apply if a contractor operates through their own personal service company (PSC) or other intermediaries. HMRC has not defined a PSC, but it usually means a limited company where the sole or majority director and/or shareholder provides the services of the company.

Sometimes, the hiring employer will have a contract with a PSC but in reality the relationship looks more like that of an employer and employee, since it is the same contractor providing the services each day. Under IR35 law, this person is considered to be a ‘deemed employee.’

What is the impact of IR35 law on employers?

The government tool ‘check employment status for tax’ can help you decide if the contractor should be classified as employed or self-employed for tax purposes. If IR35 applies, the employer must collect tax and National Insurance Contribution from sums paid to the PSC and pay them to HMRC – essentially as PAYE taxation.

The responsibility for determining IR35 status rests with the end client, as does the resulting tax liability. As a result, many small businesses automatically are classifying PSC workers as inside IR35, even though this may not deliver the best results for their business.

If a business fails to make an IR35 determination or gets it wrong, the liability for income tax and NICs will sit with the employer until the determination is completed. There’s also the risk of HMRC investigation, penalties and legal proceedings for non-compliance.

What are Collyer Bristow’s IR35 legal services?

At Collyer Bristow, we can help you:

  • Make watertight IR35 status determinations
  • Review your contracts for IR35 exposure
  • Defend status determination with the contractor and HMRC
  • Draft bespoke contracts and contractor working practices with the proper protections built-in
  • Renegotiate contracts that were prepared before the IR35 rules changed in April 2021
  • Avoid significant penalties from HMRC
  • Manage HMRC investigations
  • Defend and appeal claims from both Employment Tribunals and Tax Tribunals if you get it wrong

 

Comprising employment, tax and commercial disputes lawyers, our specialists provide comprehensive, commercially minded advice whether you hire 1 contractor or 100. If you have an issue regarding IR35 law, we can offer fast, reliable guidance and support that’s second to none.

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    Latest content and downloads

    Check out our latest content and downloads View all our downloads

    Hybrid working is the future of the workplace.

    Hybrid working - knowledge hub

    Although flexible and agile working have been buzzwords in employment law for a few years now, the pandemic has forced it onto the agenda of all organisations, whatever their size, structure, sector or location.

    As well as the obvious benefits to both employers and employees of continuing to combine working from home with going into the office and more flexible hours, there are employment law and other legal implications that employers will need to consider.

    A tool for employers

    Helping employers manage statutory flexible working requests

    The disruption to business operations caused by the pandemic has meant many employers are receiving flexible working requests from staff, who now prefer working from home. What are the Employment law requirements on employers to grant these requests?

    How to deal with a statutory flexible working request

    Collyer Bristow’s Employment lawyers have prepared a useful step-by-step flowchart for employers, guiding them through the complex process of dealing with a statutory flexible working request from an employee.

    Changes to the Immigration Rules: What you need to know

    Since 31 December 2020, most UK businesses looking to employ non-UK residents now need to do so via the new “Skilled Worker” visa route. Read our latest guide on what you need to know if you employ non- UK resident workers.

    Latest employment content

    Read the latest articles and updates from our Employment team, including those on essential COVID-19 information for employers.

    IR35: An overview of the changes

    The IR35 tax rules now extend to the private sector. For affected contractors and businesses using their services, there are now significant tax and practical consequences. We provide an overview of the changes.

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