Government research, published this week, has found that employers’ perceptions of employment law as complex and burdensome are fuelled by anxiety rather than by their actual legal obligations.

The document, “Employment Regulation - employer perceptions and the impact of employment regulation”, set out to look at the general perceptions that employers have about the law as it affects them and whether there was a “perception reality gap”.

It found that employers were not consciously aware of the impact of regulation on their practices. For instance, when asked about how they recruited and managed their employees, employment regulation rarely emerged as a key driver.

Overall, the study found that employment regulation was generally considered both necessary and fair as it ensured that employees’ rights were protected and provided employers with a legal framework to refer to when managing staff. Employers also recognised that they rarely experienced issues relating to regulation – such as dismissal or dealing with a dispute.

It also found that employers who had developed written employment policies were more confident that they were compliant with regulation than employers who operated more informally. These employers recognised a number of other benefits of adopting formal practices including ensuring transparency and consistency when managing staff, encouraging retention and maintaining morale.

Evidence of a perception/reality gap was found mainly amongst micro, small and medium-sized employers with limited knowledge of employment regulation. Most of their anxiety was about employment tribunals rather than the impact of regulation on day to day practices as they believed that the law was too complex for them to understand and changed too frequently for them to keep up.

Victoria Phillips, head of Thompsons’ Employment Rights Unit, commented that: “This research reinforces our view that the government’s obsession with restricting employment rights and access to justice is driven by ideology and has no basis in reality. Contrary to the mantra that cutting employment regulation will help business grow, this study shows that it is unlikely to have any positive impact on growth, will alienate rather than engage workers and leave staff unsure and anxious about their position at work”.

In all, 40 businesses of different sizes took part in the research carried out by an independent research firm and Kingston University. The interviews were conducted between 16 April and 22 August 2012.

To read the document “Employment Regulation - employer perceptions and the impact of employment regulation”, to go to the Government website.