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Employee rights: Does it matter less?

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Every employer in Malawi has a responsibility to ensure that they follow the relevant rules and responsibilities to their employees as laid out by the government and other applicable regulatory bodies.

Equally, your employees should also be fully aware of their responsibilities towards your business, as well as what their rights are in regards to employment.

Many Human Resources (HR) professionals in both public and private sectors encounter queries on contracts of employment, and what is expected from both employers and employees alike. The importance of clarity in all matters of workplace law, legislation and contractual obligations should not be underestimated. Effectively communicating all workplace policies can make a difference to both productivity and satisfaction levels in business.

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Generally, workers are entitled to some employment rights, including minimum wage; holiday pay and adequate time off; adherence to the working time regulation; protection against unlawful discrimination, bullying and harassment; a written statement of employment; an itemized payslip.

A contract normally exists when legal terms such as working hours, annual leave and pay have been agreed upon – it does not have to be put in writing, but it is considered best practice for employers to do so to avoid any misunderstandings or potentially contentious situations.

What do express and implied terms mean for employee rights and responsibilities? Most employment contracts will be stipulated in writing, but they do not have to be. An oral contract can be just as binding legally, but the terms and conditions stipulated can be much harder to prove. Providing a written contract can go a long way towards preventing or resolving disputes with any employees in the future. The main purpose of a written contract is to clearly illustrate two types of contractual terms – express and implied.

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Express terms tend to refer to elements of an employee’s contract that have been specifically mentioned, either in writing or during a conversation, by both the employee and employer. These may include: how much the employee will be paid (including overtime and bonus pay); Hours of work required, including any overtime hours; holiday pay and how many days of leave that they will be entitled to per year; how much notice would be required to end an employment contract

Express terms can be found within an employment contract, but also sometimes on the advert for the job in question, any letters that an employee may receive from you, and any documents that you may require an employee to sign, such as the staff handbook.

Implied terms refer to those that are not directly written or spoken about, but can be implied in the majority of contracts of employment. Implied terms that an employer should abide by can include providing a safe and non-hazardous working environment, or not asking employees to do anything illegal, such as drive a company car without insurance. Terms can also be implied through both accepted custom and practices – this refers to when arrangements have never clearly been agreed, upon but become an acceptable part of a contract over time. For entitlement to become firmly established, it should normally be: uninterrupted; long-standing; automatically received; expected and well-known.

Employee responsibilities are normally expressly stated within the standard contract of employment, but the law states that certain duties and responsibilities are owed to an employer by an employee. These commonly include: rendering faithful service to an employer; not competing in business against their employer; obeying lawful and reasonable orders; exercising reasonable skill and care in terms of fulfilling their role; not divulging any private or confidential information; maintain trust and confidence by behaving reasonably; to fully disclose any wrongdoing; to look after an employer’s property if using it.

Alongside the more general responsibilities towards an employer, your employee will also have specific obligations in regards to health and safety procedures. These tend to be: taking care of their health and safety, and that of people who may be directly affected by what they do and omissions; cooperating with others on health and safety, and not interfering with, or misusing, anything that has been provided by your business for their health, safety or welfare; report any hazards and defects observed within the workplace (Occupational Safety Health & Welfare Act, Chap 55:07)

Employees’ responsibilities and rights are important to make sure that the entire employees are made aware of what they need to be doing to improve the safe and healthy work environment. If you do not know what is required and what is expected, you will not recognise when rights and obligations are not being met. If people are not assured of their rights and made to meet their obligations, things tend to fall apart and everyone has a less enjoyable life.

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