Q: “A young friend of mine has just been ‘let go’ by the showjumping yard she was working for (she had been there for about four-six weeks) because they had lost one owner (with seven horses) and therefore couldn’t afford to pay her any more. They’ve given her two week’s pay but she’s now back looking for work again.
“While we were chatting I asked her what her contract with them had said about how much notice was required and so on and apparently she didn’t have a contract with them or her previous employer (a showing yard).
“Is it normal in the equestrian world not to have contracts of employment? And if so, why? Should she ask for one at her next job (if and when she finds one) and what should be included on it or would her asking for one mean she probably wouldn’t get the job?”
A: I am sorry to hear that your friend recently lost her job. Whilst I cannot provide specific advice in the absence of all of the details, the following general advice may be of assistance.
Termination of employment
Whilst employees enjoy the most rights (compared to workers or the self-employed), unfortunately, some of these are subject to a minimum level of service. In particular, an employee is not usually protected from unfair dismissal until they have two years’ continuous service. In practice, this means an employer can terminate someone’s employment on notice, without a reason or going through a fair procedure, at any point in the first two years with limited risk of an unfair dismissal claim.
You are quite right that employees should refer to their contract of employment to determine how much notice they are entitled to. However, in the absence of a contract, the statutory minimum notice period would apply. For example, an employee with more than one month but less than two years’ service is entitled to one week’s notice.
Unfortunately, it is a common for employees in the equestrian sector not to be issued with a contract of employment. A survey commission by the British Grooms Association in 2014 reported that 56% of those questioned did not have a contract of employment. I expect one of the reasons for this is the cost associated with having the contracts prepared. That said, most solicitors, including Clarke Willmott LLP, will provide a fixed fee service for this.
It is worth bearing in mind, however, that employees do not have the legal right to a contract of employment until they have been employed for 8 weeks.
Employees who do not have a contract of employment should wait until they have been employed for 8 weeks and then request a copy of this from their employer. If one is not forthcoming, they can (although may not wish to spend the money doing so) apply to the Employment Tribunal for a declaration of their terms and conditions. It is important to remember that the absence of a written contract of employment does not mean that there is no contract of employment – there is a verbal one. However, the law requires employers to provide written “particulars of employment” or contracts of employment.
What should be included in a contract of employment
Our employment legislation sets out the minimum requirements for contracts of employment. These are: the name of the employee and employer; the date employment began; the date the employee’s period of continuous employment began; the rate of pay; when the employee will be paid; the employee’s hours of work; the employee’s holiday entitlement; what the employee should do if they are sick; sick pay entitlement; details of the pension; the notice period the employee is required to give and entitled to receive; the employee’s job title; if the employee’s employment is for a fixed term, how long this is; the employee’s place of work; details of any collective agreements; and details of any work outside of the UK that the employee will be required to do.
Nicole Adams, solicitor at Clarke Willmott LLP