Key Differences in the Employment Laws of the US and UK

by RyanD on February 26, 2013

The laws of the U.S. and the U.K. are similar in many ways, but there are important differences in their employment laws. If you are an American planning to work in the U.K., or vice versa, you should be aware of those differences which may be important to your circumstances and your employment relationship. This article will summarize four.
At-Will Employment

Subject to exceptions, U.S. law recognizes the doctrine of “at-will” employment. That is, the employment relationship is voluntary and may be terminated by either party with or without cause and without liability. Employment agreements and collective bargaining agreements often preclude at-will termination, but in the absence of such contractual protection an employee should assume that the employer has the right to terminate at-will. In the U.K., employment is typically subject to detailed contracts, often incorporating provisions of U.K. labor law intended to protect the employee from termination without good cause. Thus, terminations in the U.K. must be justifiable and in accordance with established rules, including a notice period. Failure to comply with the required procedures will likely result in claims for unfair dismissal or discrimination being brought against the employer.
Employment Authorization

In the U.S., non-citizens and non-permanent residents generally require governmental authorization to accept employment. In most cases, that authorization is in the form of a non-immigrant visa. Obtaining such visas can be difficult and expensive. On the other hand, enforcement of U.S. immigration laws is lax, and the penalties for hiring unauthorized workers light. As a result, unauthorized employment is common in the U.S. The penalties for such violations in the U.K. are severe. Therefore U.K. companies are meticulous in verifying employment authorization.

In the U.S., non-compete provisions tend to be common in employment agreements and they are generally enforceable so long as they are reasonable in the context of the surrounding circumstances. U.K. law tends to more protective of employees, so that non-compete clauses and other post-termination restrictions in employment agreements are often found to be unenforceable.

The U.S. and the U.K. have similar approaches to protecting the privacy of their citizen generally. However, they differ in the level of protection they provide in the case of employment screenings. Generally speaking, the U.S. allows employers to conduct background checks, and in most cases employers require potential employees to consent to such background checks. In the U.K., background checks are only allowed if relevant to the job in question. Moreover, U.K. data collection services must be registered with the government.

So, which law applies if you are a citizen of one country but working in the other? There is no easy answer except, “It depends.” As a rule, the law of the country where you are performing your services will apply. However, if you are only in that country briefly on a short business trip or secondment, for example, the law of your home country is likely to apply. Most employment agreements for ex-pats will state a governing law, but it is not certain those provisions will apply, especially if they conflict with the laws of country in which the employee is physically present and providing services. As always, it is best to consult with a qualified employment attorney.

This article was written together with Robert Tritter, a passionate freelance writer of law-related articles throughout the web. They write this on behalf of HJP&E, a group of great civil litigation lawyers in California who will go great lengths to serve you. If you have been a victim of Employee Discrimination, make sure to contact them and see how they can help you.




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