Thu 25 Mar 2021

History of Employment Law

This blog sets out the main legislative changes and significant events which have shaped and formed our employment law in the UK. Starting in the 19th century, we look back to a time when employees were servants to their 'master' employers and had little, if any, employment rights or protection. We follow the developments throughout the decades arriving at the Modern Slavery Act, introduced in 2015. This list is not intended to be exhaustive but it provides an interesting historical context to show how we have arrived at where we are today in terms of modern employment legislation.


Act/ Incident



Master and Servant Act 1823




Made it a criminal offence for a workman to be disobedient and allowed calling for strikes to be punishable as an aggravated breach of contract.


Factory Act 1833




Prohibited employment of children under 9 years old.


Slavery Abolition Act 1833




Enforced prohibition of slavery throughout the British Empire.


Mines Act 1842




Raised the starting age of colliery workers to 10 years.


Trade Union Act 1871




Trade Unions were legalised for the first time in the United Kingdom.


Factory Act 1878




Prohibited work before 10 years old and applied to all trades.






The average life expectancy of a Liverpool mine worker was 30.


Trade Disputes Act 1906




Introduced that trade unions could not be sued for damages during strike action.


The Old Age Pension Act 1908




Provided a state pension for retirees.


National Insurance Act 1911




Introduced a levy to ensure that people got a benefit if they were unable to work.


Education Act 1944




Enshrined that women teachers were not to be dismissed upon marriage.


Contracts of Employment Act 1963




Introduced the right to be given a contract of employment and the right to a minimum statutory notice of termination.


Redundancy Payments Act 1965




After a qualifying period of work, gave people the right to a severance payment when made redundant.


Race Relations Act 1965




Made it illegal to discriminate on grounds of race in employment and education.






Strikes at Ford Motor Company Limited's Dagenham plant by women demanding equal pay. This has been depicted in the film 'Made in Dagenham'.


Equal Pay Act 1970 (came into force in 1975)




Men and women to be paid the same wage for the same job.


Industrial Relations Act 1971


Compensation for unfair dismissal introduced.






UK acceded to European Union.


Trade Union and Labour Relations Act 1974


Introduced rules on trade unions functioning and legal status and immunity of unions who take strike action in contemplation or furtherance of a trade dispute.


Health and Safety at Work Act 1974




Defined the fundamental structure and authority for the encouragement, regulation and enforcement of workplace health, safety and welfare within the United Kingdom.


Sex Discrimination Act 1975




Made discrimination in work, education or training on grounds of sex unlawful. Protected men and women from discrimination based on sex or marital status.


Employment Protection Act 1975




Made it unlawful to dismiss someone on grounds of pregnancy or maternity leave. Procedures for making redundancies regulated.


Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981




Protected employees' terms and conditions when a business or undertaking, or part of one, was transferred to a new employer.


The Equal Pay (Amendment) Act 1985




Sought to ensure that  women were paid the same as men for work of equal value.






Independent taxation for women is introduced.  For the first time, married women are taxed separately from their husbands.


Employment Act 1990




All forms of closed shop (a place of work where all employees must belong to one trade union) were made illegal.


Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992




Defined Trade Unions' rights and responsibilities, protected striking workers and provided a framework for collective bargaining.


Disability Discrimination Act 1995




Gave protection for disabled people in employment and in respect of access to services.


Employment Rights Act 1996




Codified existing law on individual employment rights.


Protection from Harassment Act 1997




Provided protection from harassment, stalking and any form of persistent conduct which causes another person alarm or distress.


Data Protection Act 1998




Legislation introduced to govern the protection of personal data in the UK.


Working Time Regulations 1998






Introduced the right to 20 paid holidays per year, breaks from work, and attempted to limit excessively long working hours.


National Minimum Wage Act 1998




Introduced a national minimum wage in April 1999 at £3.60 per hour for over 21s.


Human Rights Act 1998






Incorporated into UK Law the rights contained in the European Convention of Human Rights.


Maternity and Parental Leave Regulations 1999




Guaranteed maternity leave for 52 weeks in total.


The Sex Discrimination (Gender Reassignment) Regulations -  1999




Made it illegal for employers to discriminate against transgender people.


Part Time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2000




Required that employers give people on part-time contracts comparable treatment to people on full-time contracts who do the same jobs.


Fixed Term Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2002




Required that employers give people on fixed term contracts comparable treatment to people on permanent contracts who do the same jobs.


Paternity and Adoption Leave Regulations 2002




Guaranteed fathers 2 weeks' leave at the statutory rate of pay after the birth/ adoption.


The Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003




Introduced to protect people against discrimination based on sexual orientation (actual or perceived).


Employment Act 2003




Introduced the right for parents of young and disabled children to apply to work flexibly. 


Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003




Protected against unlawful discrimination on grounds of religion or belief.


Employment Equality  (Age) Regulations 2006




Protected against unlawful discrimination on grounds of age.


Working Time (Amendment) Regulations 2007




Increased statutory minimum annual leave entitlement to 28 days.


Pensions Act 2008 (came into force incrementally commencing in 2012)




Provided the right to be automatically enrolled in a basic occupational pension.


Equality Act 2010




Codified existing discrimination legislation.


Additional Paternity Leave Regulations 2010




Allowed a woman to transfer up to 26 weeks of her maternity leave to her partner.


Shared Parental Leave Regulations 2014




Enabled eligible mothers, fathers, partners and adopters to choose how to share time off work after their child is born or placed for adoption.


Deduction from Wages (Limitation) Regulations 2014




Limited the period over which claimants can seek recovery of deductions from wages to a maximum of 2 years.


Modern Slavery Act 2015




Introduced to tackle modern slavery by consolidating various offences relating to human trafficking and slavery.


National Minimum Wage (Amendment) Regulations 2016


Introduced the National Living Wage.

Scotland Act 2016


Provided for the devolution of the Scottish employment tribunals.

Trade Union Act 2016

Changed requirements for union ballots for trade union action and other related matters.


Bank of England and Financial Services Act 2016


Extended the Senior Managers and Certification Scheme to all firms authorised under the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000.

Equality Act (Gender Pay Gap Information) Regulations 2017


Require employers with 250 employees or more in private companies and voluntary sector organisations to disclose their gender pay gap and related information.

Finance Act 2017


Amended ITEPA 2003 to change the rules on off payroll working (IR35) in the public sector, making public authorities responsible for determining the status of a contractor they are engaging.

GDPR and Data Protection Act 2018


DPA 2018 repeals and replaces the DPA 1998 and incorporates the GDPR, which is intended to provide individuals with more control over their personal data, into UK law.

Companies (Miscellaneous Reporting) Regulations 2018


Introduced, amongst other things, mandatory reporting of pay ratios between CEO's and average staff.

Employment Rights (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2018


Increased the maximum penalty for aggravated breach of employment law from £5,000 to £20,000

The Employment Rights (Employment Particulars and Paid Annual Leave)(Amendment) Regulations 2018


Provided for a written statement of terms and conditions to be a day 1 right and for certain additional information to be included.  Also provided for an increase in the reference period for determining a week's pay for holiday purposes from 12 to 52 weeks.

The Employment Rights (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2019


Extended the right to a written statement of terms and conditions  to workers and reduces the threshold to request the set up of information and consultation arrangements from 10% to 2% of employees, subject to an existing minimum of 15 employees.

The Agency Workers (Amendment) Regulations 2019


Removed the "Swedish derogation" with agencies being obliged to inform workers of this by no later than 30 April 2020.

The Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses (Amendment) Regulations 2019


Required temporary work agencies to provide a Key Information Document to agency workers which includes details of rates of pay, who will pay them, how they will be paid and the type of contract they are being engaged on.

The National Insurance Contributions (Termination Awards and Sporting Testimonials) Act 2019 


Required all termination payments above the £30,000 threshold to be subject to employer national insurance contributions.

The Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Act 2018


Provided for two weeks bereavement leave for bereaved parents of a child under the age of 18 along with pay subject to eligibility requirements.

Employment Bill


Introduced in the Queens Speech in December 2019 this proposed a number of new rights due to be implemented during "this Parliamentary session".

European (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2018

Implemented on 31 January 2020, the Act gave ministers powers to make secondary legislation to give effect to citizen's rights part of the Withdrawal Agreement relating to freedom of movement as well as provisions on retained EU law and how it should be interpreted.

Finance Act 2020

Amended ITEPA 2003 to change the rules on off payroll working (IR35), making medium and large private sector organisations responsible for determining the status of a contractor they are engaging.

The Employment Tribunals (Constitution and Rules of Procedure)(Early Conciliation: Exemptions and Rules of Procedure) (Amendment) Regulations 2020

Altered tribunal and early conciliation procedure to reduce bureaucracy and increase the tribunal's capacity to deal with claims.

European Union (Future Relationship) Act 2020

Implemented into UK law the three main future
UK-EU relationship agreements: the UK-EU trade and co-operation agreement,
UK-EU security of classified information agreement, and UK-Euratom nuclear
co-operation agreement. It also made provision in connection with the future
UK-EU relationship.

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