Employment Rights

Employment law & workers' rights

These days, there is an enormous volume of legislation giving special rights and protections to employees in the UK. These employment rights are designed to ensure that all workers are treated equally, fairly and lawfully. It is important to be aware of your basic employment rights so that if something should go wrong at work, you know whether you are legally entitled to have the matter resolved.

Statutory protection for employees

Prior to the 1st October 2010, various types of discrimination were dealt with by several separate pieces of legislation such as The Sex Discrimination Act 1975, The Equal Pay Act 1970 and The Race Relations Act 1976.  All types of discrimination are now dealt with under the Equality Act 2010.

Further sources of statutory rights for employees include:

  • The Employment Rights Act 1996
  • Employment Relations Act 1999
  • Employment Act 2002
  • The National Minimum Wage Act 1998
  • Working Time Regulations 1998
  • The Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation Act) 1992
  • Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 (“TUPE”)

The National Minimum Wage

The current standard adult rate for the national minimum wage is £6.50 per hour, and this now applies to home workers as well.

The development rate (for 18 - 21 year olds) is currently £5.13 per hour. The young workers' rate (for workers aged 16 or 17 who are not apprentices) is £3.79 per hour.

The apprenticeship rate for apprentices under the age of 19, or those aged 19 or over and in their first year of apprenticeship, is currently £2.73 per hour.

The Working Time Regulations 1998

The Working Time Regulations came into force in the UK in October 1998.

The Regulations have introduced some new fundamental rights for workers, which are summarised here. As with all legislation, there are exceptions and anomalies, and the details contained here are only a rough guideline. The particular areas of likely interest are:

  • the maximum 48-hour week
  • compulsory rest breaks
  • paid annual leave

The Maximum 48-Hour Week

Under employment law, an employer cannot compel an employee to work more than 48 hours per week. An employee can work more than 48 hours in a single week but the average weekly number of hours worked must not exceed 48 hours over a 17 week period, unless the worker has agreed to opt out of the regulations in writing. Such an agreement can only be reached on an individual basis, and cannot be considered the default for any particular position or industry. "Working time" is defined as when a worker is "working, at his employer's disposal and carrying out his activities or duties" - all three elements must be present. If the employer insists upon the employee working more than the average 48 hours, or dismisses an employee who will not work the required hours, the employee can submit a complaint for detriment or automatic unfair dismissal to an Employment Tribunal.

Compulsory Rest Breaks

Adult workers are entitled to 24 hours off in each 7 day period and young workers (15-18) are entitled to 2 days in 7.

In addition, adult workers are entitled to at least 20 minutes uninterrupted rest if their working day is longer than 6 hours, and they must have at least another 11 consecutive hours in each period of 24 hours worked. Young workers are entitled to 30 minutes rest if their working day is over 4.5 hours long, and no less than 12 consecutive hours rest in each 24 hour period.

Paid Annual Leave

All workers are entitled to paid holiday from the day they start work, at the rate of 1/12 of their annual entitlement per month worked.

Full-time workers are entitled to 28 days paid leave annually. The 28 day statutory minimum entitlement includes any time taken off on public holidays.

It should be noted that there is no legal right for employees to be given Public Holidays off.

For more information see www.direct.gov.uk/en/Employment/Employees/Timeoffandholidays/DG_10029788

If you are looking to speak to a specialist about your employment rights, you may benefit from the telephone advice offered by Instant Law Line. For more information on employment rights see our pages on:

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