At Work: Human resources - It's the law

Emma Burrows, partner and head of the employment group at Trowers & Hamlins solicitors

Fixed-term employees are now entitled to permanent status after four years' continuous service.

As employers of fixed-term employees will know, the Fixed-Term Employees (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2002 state that staff on fixed-term contracts should be treated no less favourably than comparable permanent staff. What they might have forgotten is that the regulations also say that, after four years of continuous service, staff on fixed-term contracts will be entitled to permanent employment.

As of 10 July this year, employees who have been engaged by an employer on successive fixed-term contracts for four years or more are entitled to permanent employment unless the employer can objectively justify a renewal or extension of their fixed-term status.

It will not be possible to keep employees on a fixed-term basis after they have accrued four years' service unless this is objectively justified.

It will be up to the employer to show that the use of a further fixed-term contract has particular business reasons behind it that establish that such a contract is more appropriate.

Once an employee has four years' continuous service and their contract is renewed as a fixed-term contract, or they are re-engaged under a fixed-term contract, the employee has the right to ask the employer for a written statement confirming that he or she is now a permanent employee. It will be up to the employer to produce such a statement within 21 days of the request and, if the employer wishes to maintain that the employee is still a fixed-term employee, the reasons for this must be explained.

Once the employee's contract is regarded as permanent, statutory minimum notice periods will apply, unless longer periods are contractually agreed.

It will be advisable for employers to make sure fixed-term employees converted to permanent status enjoy the same notice periods as other permanent members of staff. Although it is not essential for employers to issue fixed-term employees who have acquired permanent employee status with new contracts, it may be advisable to do so, or at least to write to staff confirming their permanent status.

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