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Human Rights in the Workplace

The Human Rights Act 1998 came into force on 2nd October 2000. Under this legislation the courts and tribunals are obliged to interpret UK law to give effect to the European Convention on Human Rights.

A number of “Articles” (distinct sections) of the European Convention have relevance to employment rights.

  • Article 11 gives a right to form or join a trade union. However, this is rarely raised, as there is already substantial UK law on trade union membership, rights, and protection for those carrying out union activities.
  • Article 6 addresses the right to a fair hearing. However this obligation is already established in the employment tribunals’ own rules of procedure.
  • Article 8 establishes a right to private life. This has been raised in connection with cases concerning a person’s state of health, and cases concerning a person’s sexuality. In the case of sexuality there are specific UK regulations providing for protection from discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation. Cases concerning a person’s state of health frequently rise in Disability discrimination cases, and those relating to ill-health dismissals. The right to privacy has to be balanced against the right to a fair hearing, and so any relevant medical information will be disclosed and considered by an employment tribunal. Therefore the right to privacy is a qualified right only. Monitoring and surveillance of staff may, if excessive or disproportionate to the employer’s needs will be a breach of the Article 8 right to privacy. So, employers will only be able to rely on evidence gathered from surveillance or monitoring if it was legitimately done, and was in proportion with the circumstances, e.g. detecting fraud.

In general the Human Rights Act has had only a very modest effect on employment rights, as most of the relevant rights are qualified in any event, are the subject of other legislation e.g. race, gender, disability discrimination law, or are subject to the employment tribunal and courts needs to allow relevant evidence in order to ensure a fair hearing.


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