Labor Laws in Kenya - A Comprehensive Guide

January 21st, 2023 by Felix Cheruiyot


According to the World Bank, Kenya's labor force consists of approximately 24 million people, making up approximately two-thirds of the country's population. Most workers are employed in the agricultural sector, followed by the manufacturing, trade, and service sectors. However, the informal sector, which includes small-scale agriculture, trade, and services, is also significant and employs a large proportion of the workforce. This blog post provides a comprehensive overview of the labor laws in Kenya and explains the rights and responsibilities of employers and employees - Let's dive in!

Regarding employment status, most workers in Kenya are self-employed or work in the informal sector, where wages are often low and job security is limited. Formal employment, which includes workers in the public and private sectors, is less common and tends to be concentrated in urban areas. The public sector is the largest employer in Kenya, followed by the manufacturing and financial sectors.

The Kenyan labor market is regulated by the Labor Institutions Act of 2007, which sets out the rights and obligations of employers and employees, as well as the roles and functions of labor institutions. The Act covers a wide range of issues, including employment contracts, working hours, leave entitlements, and health and safety standards. It also provides for the establishment of labor tribunals to resolve disputes between employers and employees.

In recent years, there have been efforts to improve working conditions in Kenya, particularly in the informal sector. For example, the government has introduced a number of initiatives to promote the formalization of informal enterprises and to improve the enforcement of labor laws. There have also been efforts to increase access to education and training, particularly for disadvantaged groups such as women and young people.

Despite these efforts, challenges remain. Unemployment and underemployment are high, particularly among youth, and wages are often insufficient to meet the needs of workers and their families. There are also significant disparities in the labor market, with women and disadvantaged groups often facing discrimination and limited opportunities.

What are Labor Laws?

Labor laws are a set of laws, regulations, and standards that govern the rights and obligations of employers and employees in the workplace. These laws cover a wide range of issues, including employment contracts, working hours, minimum wage, leave entitlements, health and safety standards, and the resolution of disputes between employers and employees.

The main purpose of labor laws is to protect the rights and interests of workers, and to ensure that they are treated fairly and with respect. They also provide a framework for the relationship between employers and employees and help to create a stable and productive work environment.

Labor laws vary from country to country, and may be enacted at the national, regional, or local level. They may also be specific to certain industries or occupations. In some countries, labor laws may be set out in a single comprehensive statute, while in others they may be contained in a number of separate pieces of legislation.

Labor laws may be enforced by a variety of government agencies, such as labor departments or labor courts. Employers and employees who believe that their rights have been violated may be able to seek remedies through the legal system, such as filing a complaint or bringing a lawsuit.

Overall, labor laws play an important role in ensuring that workers are treated fairly and that they have access to fair and decent working conditions. They also help to promote economic stability and growth by providing a framework for the orderly functioning of the labor market.

Labor Laws in Kenya Explained

Labor laws in Kenya are designed to protect the rights of workers and ensure that they are treated fairly and justly in the workplace. These laws cover a wide range of issues, including equal treatment and non-discrimination, the right to form and join trade unions, the right to strike, the payment of fair wages, the provision of safe and healthy working conditions, and the termination of employment. Let’s take a closer look at each of these topics and explore how they are regulated in Kenya.

Right of Kenyan workers

Kenyan workers have the right to be treated equally and without discrimination based on their race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, or any other characteristic. This means that employers must not discriminate against workers in hiring, promotion, pay, or any other aspect of employment.

In addition to the right to equal treatment, Kenyan workers also have the right to form and join trade unions. Trade unions are organizations that represent the interests of workers and negotiate with employers on issues such as wages, working conditions, and benefits. Workers have the right to join a trade union of their choice, and employers must not discriminate against workers who are members of a trade union.

Kenyan workers also have the right to strike, which is the temporary withdrawal of labor in order to demand improvements in working conditions or wages. However, there are certain requirements that must be met before a strike can be legally conducted, such as giving notice to the employer and following the procedures set out in the Industrial Relations Act.

Finally, Kenyan workers have the right to fair and safe working conditions. This includes the right to a safe and healthy workplace, as well as the right to be protected from harassment and abuse. Employers have a responsibility to ensure that the workplace meets safety and health standards, and to provide personal protective equipment and other safety measures as needed.

Responsibilities of employers

In addition to workers' rights, there are also certain responsibilities that employers must fulfill in Kenya. One of the most important of these is the payment of fair wages. The government sets the minimum wage in Kenya, which varies based on the sector and type of work being performed. Employers must pay their workers at least the minimum wage, and may not pay lower wages based on discrimination or other unlawful grounds.

Employers also have a responsibility to provide safe and healthy working conditions for their employees. This includes ensuring that the workplace meets all relevant safety and health standards, and providing personal protective equipment and other safety measures as needed. Employers must also take steps to prevent harassment and abuse in the workplace, and must provide a process for employees to report any incidents of harassment or abuse.

In addition to these responsibilities, employers in Kenya must also comply with all relevant labor laws and regulations. This includes the Labor Institutions Act, which establishes the legal framework for labor relations in Kenya, as well as specific rules and regulations related to issues such as working hours, overtime pay, and termination of employment.

Employment contracts in Kenya

In Kenya, employment contracts can be either written or oral and can be either permanent or temporary. Permanent employment contracts are ongoing and do not have a fixed term, while temporary employment contracts have a fixed term and expire after a certain period of time. Casual employment contracts are another type of temporary employment contract that are typically for short-term or irregular work.

The content of employment contracts in Kenya can vary, but they generally include terms and conditions such as the duties and responsibilities of the employee, the duration of the contract, the rate of pay, and any benefits or allowances that may be provided.

Fair wages

In Kenya, the minimum wage is determined by the Minister of Labor in consultation with the Central Organization of Trade Unions and the Federation of Kenya Employers. The minimum wage is reviewed every two years, or earlier if necessary.

The minimum wage applies to all workers, regardless of their occupation or sector of employment. It is illegal for an employer to pay an employee less than the minimum wage.

The Kenyan labor law also requires employers to pay certain allowances to their employees. These include a housing allowance, a transport allowance, and a meal allowance. The amount of these allowances is determined by the employer, but they must be sufficient to meet the needs of the employee.

It is important to note that the minimum wage and allowances in Kenya may not be sufficient to support a decent standard of living for an individual or a family. Therefore, it is important for workers to negotiate fair wages and for employers to pay wages that are sufficient to meet the basic needs of their employees.

Working hours and overtime

The maximum number of working hours per week in Kenya is 45 hours. This means employees are allowed to work a maximum of 9 hours per day for 5 days a week. However, the working hours can also be arranged such that an employee works for fewer hours per day but more days per week. For instance, an employee may work 8 hours per day for 6 days per week.

Overtime is any work done beyond regular working hours. As per Kenyan labor laws, employees are entitled to overtime pay if they work more than 45 hours per week. The overtime pay is calculated at one and a half times the employee's normal hourly rate for every hour of overtime worked.

However, some exceptions to the overtime rules apply. For example, employees classified as executives or professionals aren't entitled to overtime pay. Moreover, employees working in certain industries, such as agriculture, may have different overtime rules.

Paternity and maternity leave

Paternity and maternity leave are important provisions under Kenyan labor laws that allow expectant and new parents to take time off work to care for their newborns and bond with them.

Paternity leave allows expectant fathers to take time off work to support their partners during pregnancy and the postpartum period. Under Kenyan labor laws, expectant fathers are entitled to 14 days of paternity leave, which can be taken either before or after the birth of the child. Paternity leave can be taken on continuous days or on alternate days, depending on the circumstances.

Maternity leave, on the other hand, is a period of time that expectant mothers are entitled to take off work before and after the birth of their child. According to Kenyan labor laws, expectant mothers are entitled to a minimum of 90 days of maternity leave, which can be taken either before or after the birth of the child. Maternity leave can be taken on continuous days or on alternate days, depending on the circumstances.

Both paternity and maternity leave are important provisions that allow expectant and new parents to take time off work to care for their newborns and bond with them. These provisions also help to support and protect the health and well-being of expectant and new parents. It is crucial for employers to adhere to these provisions and ensure that expectant and new parents are able to take the time off work that they are entitled to under Kenyan labor laws.

Health and safety regulations

In Kenya, the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) sets out the legal framework for the protection of workers' health and safety in the workplace. The Act applies to all employers, workers, and self-employed people, and covers all types of work, including manual labor, office work, and domestic work.

Under the Act, employers have a legal duty to ensure the health and safety of their employees. This includes providing a safe and healthy work environment, as well as training workers on how to identify and manage any risks associated with their work. Employers must also take steps to prevent accidents and injuries by implementing appropriate safety measures, such as installing safety equipment and providing protective clothing.

Workers also have a legal duty to take care of their own health and safety, as well as that of their colleagues. This includes following safety procedures and wearing any protective equipment provided.

The OSHA also sets out specific regulations for different types of work, such as construction, mining, and manufacturing. For example, construction workers must be provided with hard hats, protective footwear, and high-visibility clothing, while workers in manufacturing must be protected from noise and vibration.

Overall, the health and safety regulations in Kenya are in place to protect workers from accidents and injuries and ensure that they can work in a safe and healthy environment. By following these regulations, employers and workers can help to create a safer and more productive workplace.

Termination of employment

The Employment Act outlines the legal framework for the termination of employment. An employer may terminate an employee's contract of employment for various reasons, including redundancy, poor performance, or misconduct.

If an employer wishes to terminate an employee's contract, they must give the employee written notice of the termination and the reasons for it. The amount of notice required depends on the length of the employee's service, with longer periods of service requiring longer notice periods. An employee can challenge the termination of their contract through the Ministry of Labor or the Industrial Court if they believe it was unfair.

To file a claim, the employee must do so within 90 days of the termination. An employee's contract of employment may also contain specific provisions that must be followed during the termination process, such as a performance review or an offer of alternative employment within the company.

Business Payments by IntaSend

If you have a business in the public or private sector with employees, you should know by now that making timely payments is one of the best ways to play by the labor books in Kenya. We understand how difficult it is to process payments sometimes, which may result in you breaking some of these rules. However, you can avoid any legal consequences by paying your workers on time, which is why we’re introducing the IntaSend ‘business payments’ feature. This feature allows you to quickly settle your B2B invoices and disburse bulk payments to your employees, contractors, and suppliers; up to 5000 transactions at once.

The good thing about this feature is that it is very safe. IntaSend uses bank-level security to protect your money and if you add that to the PCI-DSS compliance and data encryption the company also has, you have a very secure platform for your business payments. If you want to comply with Kenyan labor laws, making timely payments to your workers is one of the best ways to achieve that, and IntaSend will help you do just that.

Cover Photo by Mikhail Pavstyuk on Unsplash

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