The Peninsula Employment Law Dictionary - 'V'

Peninsula Team

July 27 2012

The Peninsula Employment Law Dictionary – ‘V’ We all know that employment law is a minefield. Sometimes it may feel like there is legislation for everything and often there are lots of ‘buzz-words’ specific to employment law being bounced around. You wouldn’t be on your own if you thought that employment law is like another language! In an effort to help employers wade through these buzz-words and parts of legislation, we at Peninsula have created our very own Employment Law Dictionary! It’s simple, concise and easy to understand. Each month we represent a letter of the alphabet and associate a few words in employment law with that letter. Variable Hours Contracts - Variable hour contracts are applicable to employees whose hours of work will vary each week, typically those on shift work. Variable hours contracts are permitted under legislation, provided there is a method by which the employees are made aware well in advance of the hours they will be required to work. In instances such as this, a staff rota is applicable as it will set out the weekly working hours for staff and provide ample notice of this. It is important to note that if an employee is not required to work any hours in a given week, possibly due to business circumstances or the employee not making themselves available, then it would be the case that the employee should be put on temporary layoff until the work becomes available. Variation of Contractual Terms- There may be times when it becomes essential for an employer to change the terms and conditions of an employee’s employment contract, or to change collectively the terms and conditions of all the employees’ contracts. This may be due to a change in the economic environment, a restructuring of the business, a change of location or other changes to laws and regulations. Changes may apply, for example, to rates of pay, hours of work, duties and responsibilities or the location of the workplace. It is possible for an employer to change terms and conditions of an employment contract. However, that cannot be done without negotiation and agreement with the employee individually or employees collectively, through a union, elected representatives or employee association. It is vital to check what is in the original documents and consult as far as possible on any proposed changes to be made. Imposing changes without consultation could result in claims of constructive dismissal from employees as well as the possibility of being taken to an employment tribunal or claims for damages in a civil court. In this situation it is highly recommended that advice is sought by the employer as soon as possible to ensure due process is followed. Vicarious Liability- The doctrine of vicarious liability provides that where an employee commits a wrong in the course of their employment, not only may that employee be directly liable for their action but also their employer may be held vicariously liable for that employee’s wrongdoing. Essentially, the employer may be liable for their employee’s conduct. The most common example is where an employee is guilty of negligence which results in injury to a third party such as a customer. That third party may take legal action against the employer in such circumstances. There are four primary reasons as to why this rule exists and why employers are held liable:

•      The employer is in control of the employee’s actions through orders and instructions

•      The employee would not have been in a position to commit the wrongdoing but for the fact that s/he was carrying out the employer’s activities

•      The employer is usually in a better position to absorb the financial loss of a civil claim (e.g. liability insurance, ability to increase prices to absorb loss etc.)

Vicarious liability ensures that employers promote good practice and train employees properly in terms of working practices and health and safety.

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