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Changes to business and other regulations usually come into force on 1 October and 6 April and some quite important ones came on line in October 2011. Business legal requirements like these are usually mandatory although some already in force, for example concerning maternity leave may not apply to a business with less than a certain number of staff but it is totally essential that you seek good quality law advice before starting to employ staff or to trade. Some businesses, for example food industries, are very closely monitored and regulated and this is as it should be. Others have fewer rules but even so, ignorance of the law is no defence and you might find that your self employment ideas sink before they have even begun to swim.
One of the main changes that came into force in October 2011 was concerning the minimum wage. There are four bands in the structure if you include the apprentice rate, which is unlikely to apply to you if your business is mainly to provide you with some extra income working for yourself. Nevertheless, you should be aware of all of the levels which are £6.08 for all workers over 21, £4.98 between 19 and 20, £3.68 to all workers below 18 who are also over the minimum school leaving age and finally the apprentice rate at £2.60. These are absolutely set in stone and can’t be overridden just because a worker is part time or has flexible working arrangements.
In fact, the two other main changes will possibly affect the owner of a small business more even than the minimum wage. First is the scrapping of the default retirement age. It has been illegal for a long time to discriminate by reason of age alone, and now it is not lawful to retire a member of staff at what was once considered the retirement ‘age’. The other rule changes apply to agency or temporary workers. From 1 October 2011, agency workers are treated far more like a permanent member of staff. From the very first day on the job, temporary workers must be able to access all the facilities that permanent staff can and, more importantly perhaps, must be allowed to see all adverts for job vacancies and the opportunity to apply for them. After 12 weeks, they are entitled to holiday pay, overtime and any bonuses and perks open to permanent staff.
Flexibility is very important in a business’s early years and so some of these changes may have quite an impact on you. Before you make any wide ranging changes on the back of these new regulations, it would be wise to check with an expert in legal issues in business to make sure that you are still within the law. If your business is very small, you are more likely to rely on agency or temporary staff, especially if your work is seasonal, so these changes could be serious. But don’t forget why you went into business; you liked the idea of working for yourself and the freedom and flexibility that it would bring. If necessary, adjust your workforce numbers, but don’t be tempted to flout the rules.