The intention of the Conservatives to implement a British ‘Bill of Rights and Responsibilities’ in place of the Human Rights Act 1998 proved a contentious issue among the media and rival parties in the aftermath of the election, but the prospective impact on employers and employment law may not be as significant as previously thought.
According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), this change in legislation has raised questions on how employee rights may alter under the new bill, citing that the government had suggested that decisions made by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) had “expanded the scope of human rights beyond what was intended by those drafting the original convention, and that this has affected the employment relationship.” For employers, this scope includes employee rights surrounding:
- Private life
- Family life
- Freedom of thought
- Conscience and religion
- Freedom of expression
- Assembly and association
There have been several cases whereby decisions made by the ECHR have impacted employment law within the UK, including:
- Halford v UK, 1997. Mrs Halford alleged that “calls made from her home and her office telephones were intercepted for the purposes of obtaining information to be used against her in the discrimination proceedings.” The ECHR ruled in Mrs Halford’s favour that the right to privacy applies in the workplace
- Redfearn v UK, 2012. The ECHR decided that the dismissal of Mr Redfearn as a result of his membership of a political party was in breach of his right to basic political beliefs under UK law. As a result of this case, the government subsequently amended legislation to allow employees to exercise their right to political opinion.
The formal severance from the ECHR would position the court as an advisory body, limiting their ability to order changes to UK law in the eyes of the Supreme Court. Nevertheless, the government have confirmed that the implications of the bill will not in any way detract from the existing human rights of employees, nor suggest any change in obligations for employers than under the current convention.
Under the Bill of Rights, employers will be required to honour and respect the general human rights of their employees as they would under the and won’t bring about any tangible effects to employee’s remit and responsibilities.
In addition, the stance of UK courts to respect the necessity of the fundamental principles of human rights suggests that employers will continue to be subject to the same policies regarding basic employee rights as under the ECHR.