The many legal complexities of taking on a farm employee

The many legal complexities of taking on a farm employee

Dear Karen,

I am thinking of taking on a farm labourer.

What do I need to do, legally, as an employer, when taking on an employee?

Dear Reader,

Employment law has become very complex in the past number of years.

The Workplace Relations Act 2015 established the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), which is responsible for ensuring compliance and enforcement of employment rights legislation.

Employment contract

If you work for an employer for a regular wage or salary, you automatically have a contract of employment.

You must be given a written statement of five core terms within five days of starting your job, and you must be given the remaining terms of employment in writing within two months.

Some of the terms and conditions that must be included are as follows:

  • Full names of the employer and employee
  • Address of the employer.
  • Place of work.
  • Job title or nature of work.
  • Date of commencement of the contract of employment.
  • Details of hours of work.
  • Details of annual leave.
  • Whether the pay is weekly, monthly or otherwise.
  • Any terms and conditions relating to pension schemes.
  • Any terms and conditions relating to incapacity for work due to sickness or injury.
  • Periods of notice. or methods for determining periods of notice.

I would advise you to instruct a solicitor to draft the contract of employment.

If such an agreement is not properly drafted, it may cost you more in the long term, for example, if the employee does not work out as you hoped, and threatens to bring a claim against you, or the WRC carries out an inspection.

Health and safety

I recently wrote here about the importance of health and safety on the farm, and the legislation that farmers must be aware of and comply with.

To briefly recap, the Health, Safety and Welfare of Work Act 2005 places a legal duty on every person controlling a workplace to identify hazards at the place of work.

You need to put in place a safety statement, in writing, setting out how the safety, health and welfare of employees are to be secured.

However, it is important to understand that if you employ three employees or less, there are less stringent requirements and, instead, an alternative solution is allowed, by observing the Code of Practice for preventing injury and occupational ill-health in agriculture.

I would advise you to ensure that the new employee signs a copy of the safety statement as soon as he or she commences work, confirming that he or she has been made aware of the health and safety policies.

It can be very important, if the employee is involved in a workplace accident.

Payslip

You are legally obliged to provide a payslip, which should include a breakdown of gross pay, tax deductions, hours worked, hourly rate of pay, holiday pay, sick pay etc.

Checking references

Before you take on any new employee, you should ask for at least two references, ideally from previous farmer employers.

Ensure you telephone the referees.

You should insert a probationary period in the contract of employment, to provide you with time to see whether or not the employee is competent, and that you are satisfied with their work.

There are many other terms and conditions that need to be addressed in the contract of employment.

The above list is not exhaustive.

Other terms and conditions that need to be dealt with in the contract are disciplinary procedures; details of any collective agreements that may affect the employee’s pay; the pay reference period for the purposes of the National Minimum Wage Act 2000, etc.

The need for farming businesses to ensure compliance with employment legislation is greater than ever, as the level of claims, inspections, and fines, is increasing each year, generally.

In addition, complying with your obligations under the law improves morale, transparency, and efficiency, in the workplace, and allows you to focus on the business of farming.

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