Harvesting success: Essential tips for agricultural employers navigating employment law

Being an employer in the agricultural sector is undoubtedly a difficult task, striving to comply with employment law on the one hand and the complex demands of a seasonal business which may also have unpredictable working hours on the other.

Here, Nicola Evans, senior solicitor at Wilkin Chapman, outlines some top tips to ensure that your business remains on the right side of the employment law fence:

Contracts of employment

Going back to basics, an employment contract can be either verbal or in writing. Although a written contract will always be preferable. The Employment Rights Act 1996 states that as a minimum an employee should have a written statement of certain specified particulars.

For those commencing employment after 6th April 2020, employees and workers are entitled to receive a section 1 statement “no later than the beginning of the employment.”

The statement (amongst other matters) should contain as a minimum:

- The names of the employer and employee (or worker)

- The date of commencement of employment

- Details relating to pay

- Any terms and conditions relating to hours of work

- Any terms and conditions relating to holidays

- The length of notice that is required to be given by either party to terminate the contract

Additionally, it is helpful for all parties for an accompanying staff handbook to set out the rules and procedures which staff are required to follow (such as disciplinary and grievance policies but also what to do when staff are absent, holiday procedures, and how to deal with misconduct surrounding social media). Having such policies in place confirms expectations and also highlights to staff the potential outcomes of being in breach of such policies and workplace rules. It is therefore a benefit to both employers and employees.

Working time regulations

Despite the agricultural sector being one that generally operates around the clock, the Working Time Regulations 1998 (WTR) continue to apply. The WTR state that an employee cannot work more than an average of 48 hours a week, without first having signed an opt out agreement.

The WTR do however acknowledge that work in the agricultural sector cannot easily be reconciled with limits on night work or entitlement to rest daily and weekly breaks. Therefore whilst you need not be too concerned if all the required breaks cannot be provided, employees should be granted compensatory rest where possible.

Calculating annual leave

The agricultural sector is one in which demand for workers can be seasonal and ad hoc causing complexities, both for calculating the amount of annual leave accrued but also in determining at what rate it should be paid at.

For holiday years commencing 1st April 2024 onwards, the government are introducing the following changes to current rules surrounding holiday calculations:

- The 12.07% of hours worked method will be reintroduced for irregular hours and part year workers.

- Rolled up holiday pay for irregular hours and part year workers will again be permitted. This means that workers can be paid an uplift of 12.07% in lieu of any leave being taken.

Find out more, contact Nicola Evans on 01482 425812, email [email protected] or visit http://www.wilkinchapman.co.uk/business/employment-law