Human rights

The Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) adopted the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms into UK law on 2 October 2000. Some of the rights and freedoms set out in the Convention relevant to the workplace are:

• Prohibition of slavery and forced labour;
• Right to a fair trial;
• Right to respect for private and family life;
• Freedom of expression; and
• Freedom of assembly and association.

The HRA affects different types of employers differently.

Public authorities
Employees can bring a claim against a public authority employer directly for a breach of a right set out in the HRA. Public authority employers include the police, the Government, local authorities, and the NHS.

Semi-public authorities
Private bodies that carry out public functions are also defined as public authorities, but only insofar as they are carrying out their public function. The relationship between employer and employee would normally be considered to be within the scope of their private function as employer, and any related acts to be outside the scope of their public function. This means that semi-public authority employers are affected by the HRA in the same way as private employers.

Private employers
These are organisations that carry out no public function. The HRA is only indirectly enforceable against such employers, in that an Employment Tribunal’s decision about workplace conduct and workplace decisions must be compatible with the HRA. An employee cannot directly bring a claim for breach of the HRA, but may ‘attach’ a claim that the employer has breached the HRA to an existing employment claim, such as unfair dismissal. Therefore, if an employer were to have unjustifiably breached an employee’s human rights in its treatment of the employee in a dismissal situation, a Tribunal might find that the employer’s actions made the dismissal unfair.