Your Basic Rights at Work

To help ensure that people are treated fairly by their employer, all workers have a number of rights under the law. Our guide to these rights will help you ensure you are treated fairly.

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Employment rights are designed to balance the expectations of the job with the fair treatment of the worker doing it. Your exact employment rights will vary depending on the kind of job you do, the arrangement you have with your employer and many other variables. Your rights at work come from both your statutory rights and your employment contract.

Statutory rights

Statutory rights are essentially legal rights which nearly all workers are entitled to. While there are some exceptions, as a worker you are generally entitled to these rights, and, in most cases, you will have the following statutory rights as soon as you begin work:

  • You must be paid at least the National Minimum Wage
  • Your employer must not make illegal deductions from your pay
  • You must receive an itemised payslip which breaks down your wage and any deductions
  • You should receive a written statement explaining the main terms and conditions of your job within two months of starting
  • You have the right to a certain amount of paid holiday each year, as well as being able to take paid time off for antenatal care, maternity, paternity and adoption leave  – see our section on time off work for more information
  • You have the right to take unpaid time off to attend trade union activities, or for study or training if you are aged 16 – 17, as well as the right to a reasonable amount of unpaid leave to look after dependents in an emergency – see our section on time off work for more information
  • Under health and safety laws, you must be granted daily and weekly rest breaks, and you cannot ordinarily be forced to work more than 48 hours a week – see our health and safety section for further details
  • You must not be discriminated against in the workplace – see our discrimination section for further details
  • You should not be dismissed or treated unfairly at work if you become a ‘whistleblower’ (someone who exposes suspected wrongdoing in their workplace)
  • If you have been working for an employer for at least a month, they must give you notice if you are to be dismissed – see our page about work coming to an end for more details
  • If you are dismissed while pregnant or on maternity leave, you are entitled to receive a written explanation of the reason from your employer
  • If you are attending a disciplinary or grievance hearing, you have the right to be accompanied by a trade union representative
  • If you are a part-time worker, you should have the same contractual rights as a full-time worker in a similar role (though entitlement to holiday and similar rights will be calculated on a pro rata basis)
  • If you are a fixed-term employee, you should have the same contractual rights as a permanent employee in a similar role

After six months (26 weeks) of working for an employer:

  • You have the right to submit a request for flexible working

After a year of working for an employer, you will usually gain the following statutory rights:

  • You should be allowed to take unpaid parental leave
  • If you started your job before  6th April 2012 and you are dismissed by your employer you have the right to receive a written explanation of the reason
  • If you started your job before  6th April 2012, you can claim compensation if you are unfairly dismissed

After two years of working for an employer, you should normally gain these further statutory rights:

  • You can take paid time off to look for work if you are being made redundant
  • You can claim redundancy pay if you are being made redundant
  • If you started your job on or after  6th April 2012 and if you are dismissed by your employer you have the right to receive a written explanation of the reason
  • If you started your job on or after  6th April 2012, you can claim compensation if you are unfairly dismissed

Contracts of employment

A contract of employment is the agreement between you and your employer regarding the details of the job. The purpose of a contract of employment is to set out the terms and conditions of your employment, including your rights and responsibilities.

An employment contract does not have to be an actual written document; it could simply be something you have discussed verbally with your employer. It is important to note that a contract cannot take away rights you already have by law. If an employer gets you to sign a contract which says that a statutory right does not apply, this part of the contract will be automatically void.

A contract can, however, give you additional rights beyond those granted by the law. For example, if you have a statutory right to 28 days of paid holiday, but your contract says that you can take 30 days of paid holiday, your employer should give you the 30 days promised.

Contracts are also seen as including what are known as 'implied terms', which are things that are so obvious that they do not need to be written down (or are legal requirements). For example, it does not need to state in your contract that the workplace should be safe, or that you should not steal from your employer, for these expectations to be in force.

One important implied term is that of 'mutual trust and confidence'. This means that neither the employer nor the employee should act in a way as to undermine the employment relationship. Both parties should avoid treating the other in an unreasonable or unfair manner which will cause a breakdown between the two, as this would allow the victim to treat the employment contract as having been brought to an end.

Another specific kind of implied term is what is known as ‘custom and practice’. If something is always done in a certain way in the workplace and everyone involved approves of this, it can be considered part of the employment contract, even if it is not written down. For example, if an employer has always paid a particular rate for overtime work, employees should view this as something to which they have a contractual right, even if it has never been written down or specifically discussed.

‘Custom and practice’ can even replace written terms of employment, if they clash. For example, if your employment contract says that you must give a month’s notice to take time off, but in practice everyone simply puts in their requests the week before their holiday, this shorter notice period for time off can be viewed as having replaced the one described in the written contract.

Your pay rights as an employee

You have a right to be paid for the work you have done, and in most cases you should also be paid if you are prepared to work but your employer has not made any work available to you. Almost everyone is entitled to receive pay at the National Minimum Wage rate at the very least.

The current hourly National Minimum Wage is as follows:

  • £6.50 for workers aged 21 or over
  • £5.13 for workers aged from 18 – 20
  • £3.79 for workers aged from 16 – 17
  • £2.73 for apprentices who are in the first year of their apprenticeship or aged below 19

There are some types of worker who do not have the right to be paid the minimum wage. These are:

  • self-employed people
  • workers aged below 16
  • voluntary workers
  • company directors and other office holders
  • members of the armed forces
  • share fishermen
  • workers (such as nannies) living in their employer’s family home who do not contribute to the cost of their accommodation or meals
  • trainees on some government schemes or European Community Schemes
  • workers on government employment or pre-apprenticeship schemes
  • higher and further education students on work placements lasting up to a year
  • members of religious communities who live and work there
  • prisoners

Your employer may of course choose to pay you more than the National Minimum Wage and this will be set out in your contract of employment. How you are paid is also up to the employer; the law does not say anything about the way in which you should receive your money. Your contract should also state how often your wages will be paid.

If an employer does choose to pay more than the National Minimum Wage, they cannot discriminate against certain groups of people when deciding on wages. See our discrimination section for more details on this.

You should receive an itemised payslip at or before the time that your wages are paid. It should detail the gross and net amount of salary, the total amount of any deductions, and the purpose of the deductions. If your wage is split and paid in several different ways, the payslip should also provide full details of this.

Deductions from your wage which are not required or permitted by law (as opposed to, for example, tax or national insurance) must meet with your approval before they can be taken. An employer may detail certain deductions in your contract, but you must have been provided with a copy of this or a written explanation of the deductions before they are taken. Alternatively, you may be asked to consent to additional deductions in writing.

You should still be paid if you are off sick, or on maternity, paternity or adoption leave. You also have the right to a certain amount of paid holiday per year. For details of this, please see our section about time off work.

If an employer provides accommodation for a worker or employee, this may entitle them to pay less than the minimum wage. This is known as the accommodation offset.

Currently the maximum accommodation offset is £5.08 per day, or £35.56 per week - this means that your employer could underpay you by £5.08 over the course of a day's work if you are being provided with somewhere to live.

The main terms and conditions of employment

Within two months of starting work, all employees are entitled to receive a written statement describing the most important terms of their employment contract. Your employer may not provide this to you unless you ask, but once you have requested it they are legally required to supply it.

This statement should contain details of:

  • your name and the name of your employer
  • the date you started working for them
  • your job title
  • your wages and how often they will be paid
  • the hours you work
  • your entitlement to paid holiday and how much time you may take off
  • the company’s sick leave policy
  • the location of the job and whether you may have to work at more than one site
  • details of any company pension schemes
  • the notice period your employer will give you if you are dismissed, and the amount of notice you must give them if you wish to leave
  • disciplinary, grievance and dismissal procedures

It is important to note that not all of this information needs to be supplied in a single statement; for example, your employer may supply staff handbooks or other documents which explain procedures and policies which are universal across the company.

Get legal advice today

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