It's time to smash those employment law myths

Employment law is commonly misunderstood by both employers and employees, especially rights in interviews and the workplace. The myths are ubiquitous in any area of employment, not just in IT jobs.

– It’s not illegal for an employer to give a bad reference when you look for another job. The truth is that an employer’s duty is to be honest and accurate in their representation of you, so while this means they can’t lie to say you were worse than you were, if you were an employee who caused problems in whatever aspect then an employer is within their rights to say so.

– Interns don’t need to be paid. Internships are popular for people looking to gain experience in a new field, so if you want to get into software development then you may consider an internship. While not all interns are paid, it all depends on if the intern is considered a worker or not. For instance, if an intern is contracted and has an obligation to carry out certain tasks, they are considered workers and are therefore entitled to minimum wage. If, on the other hand, they are shadowing or work in a capacity in which they wouldn’t be disciplined for taking time off, then they don’t legally have to be paid.

– Employees are entitled to have bank holidays off work. Bank holidays are referred to as statutory holidays, but there is no legal obligation for employers to grant them as leave to employees. The legal requirement is staff have at least 5.6 weeks of leave per year, but the government does not rule on how or when that leave is taken. It is a matter of discretion between employer and employees.

– An employee can be sacked for any reason if they have less than a year’s service. There is a grain of truth in this, in that it is typical for an employee with less than a year’s service to not be able to claim unfair dismissal. The reason it’s a myth though is because there are over 20 reasons for which an employee can claim unfair dismissal from the very start of their employment, such as disability or racial discrimination.

– If an employer makes someone redundant and can recruit again within two years, they must offer the job to the former employee. While employees can claim unfair dismissal if they think their redundancy wasn’t genuine, they only have a three-month period in which to do so. Furthermore, if they were sacked because of poor performance or any other reason relating to their job not being performed properly, an employer is perfectly able to not re-hire them.

– If an employee completes their probationary period they cannot be sacked without length procedure. Probationary periods are more for the employer to review performance and decide the future of the employee within the company rather than a legal guideline. Employees off probation can be sacked just as easily as those on probation; the only difference may be you need to give them a longer period of notice in which to find new employment.

– It’s illegal to make someone redundant while they are on maternity leave. Although women on maternity leave do have a degree of extra protection, employers do not need to wait for them to return to work before making them redundant if it is a genuine situation. If, for example, an entire department is being laid off, the woman can be made redundant at the same time as everyone else.

Employment law can seem tricky because it is so varied, but the nuts and bolts of it can be understood rather quickly and it is easy to find information on your rights even easier if you know what you specifically are looking for.