Types of Worker

There are many different types of worker according to employment law, and knowing which kind you are is vital to ensure that you remain aware of your rights and responsibilities in the workplace and your job role.

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Under employment law, the term “worker” refers to employees of a business, or anyone else who has a contract to undertake work or services for another party who is not a customer or client. People defined as workers are granted certain rights under employment law, including payment regulated by the National Minimum Wage, limitations on the number of hours they can be made to work, and the provision of a certain amount of paid holiday.

However, there are many different types of worker, and there are different rules and regulations which apply to them, so you may find that your particular situation is governed by different rules. Below is a list of all the different types of worker and how employment law affects them.

Agency workers

Agency workers, also known as 'temps', are eligible for many of the same rights as permanent or fixed-term workers, although they are not likely to receive as many benefits as those who are directly employed by the company. 

Any agency should consult a candidate before putting them forward for a role with a prospective employer. The definition of an “agency worker” is established through payment - if an employee is paid by the agency, they are an agency worker.

If you find a permanent role with a company through an employment agency, then you will be entitled to the employment rights afforded to any permanent member of staff, rather than being considered an agency worker.

What is an agency worker?

Agency workers have either a written 'contract of employment' or a 'contract for service' between themselves and the recruiter finding them roles.

Agencies are not entitled to charge jobseekers for finding them work, with the exception of those operating in the entertainment and modeling industries. However, employment agencies may charge for other, related services they offer, like CV writing or training.

The company receiving the worker is responsible for paying a fee to the agency, covering the wage and a recruitment charge. The agency then pays the worker themselves with the money received.

Unfortunately, despite the many benefits of temporary work, which include flexibility of scheduling and the opportunity to sample a wide range of jobs, many of the rights received by permanent employees regarding redundancy pay or unfair dismissal are off-limits to temporary staff. The hiring company is often eligible to end the temporary work with little or no notice, depending on the contract terms.

Temporary employment rights

While temporary workers do not have the same rights as full-time staff, they can still expect to be treated fairly at work.

Temporary workers must still be given paid holiday, regular breaks and reasonable working hours, and pay in line with the National Minimum Wage.

They are also protected from discrimination by equality laws, and obviously health and safety regulations apply to them as they do to any other worker.

You should also be allowed access to any facilities which are available to permanent employees in similar roles to yours – these might include such things as canteens, common rooms or crèches.

Equal treatment after 12 weeks

Once you have worked for 12 weeks in one particular role, you may well qualify to be treated equally to any permanent worker employed in a comparable role. This means that you would be entitled to receive the same pay agreements, working time expectations and annual leave as a similar, permanent worker would receive. This is not affected by whether your work is full-time or part-time.

However, breaks in employment can affect your entitlement to these rights. If there is a break of more than 6 weeks between roles with one particular hirer, or you end up doing a job which is substantially different from your previous one, the period for which you are considered to have worked for them resets to zero.

Some situations instead mean a ‘pause’ in your entitlement. The amount of time you are considered to have worked for one employer will stop during these periods, but resume when you begin work again with them. This happens if you take a break from your role for 6 weeks or less (or up to 28 weeks if you are ill or hurt), if you take holiday time, if the workplace has temporarily closed so that you cannot attend work, or if you have to attend jury service (up to 28 weeks).

If you take time off due to pregnancy, take a break within 26 weeks of giving birth, or take adoption or paternity leave, you are essentially considered to still be working for the purposes of receiving these rights – this period will be added on to the amount of time you worked for the employer.


Just like any other worker, temporary workers must be paid at least the National Minimum Wage.

A worker has the right to be paid by the agency for all worked hours, regardless of whether a timesheet has been completed, although the agency have the right to delay payment while conducting an investigation into whether you actually worked the hours. The investigation must be concluded within a reasonable time period.

In the event that the agency has not been paid by the employer for a service provided, the worker could still be entitled to the agreed pay amount. If a company is not satisfied with services provided then this is a matter for the agency and the company to resolve, but you must still be paid for the hours you did work.

Terms of employment

An agency is lawfully obliged to set out written terms of employment before they begin seeking roles for you. These terms should include:

  • a notice period
  • relevant pay details
  • details of employment, i.e. if you are under a contract of employment or contract for services
  • leave and holiday entitlement

As with an employer, an agency is not allowed to alter terms and conditions without consulting with the worker.

In the event that the worker agrees to any changes set out by the agency, a new document with a fully detailed account of amendments must be produced, signed and countersigned to record acknowledgement and approval from the worker.

Agencies must always be honest in the job descriptions presented to workers and advertised externally. Applying to both temporary workers and permanent placements, below are points of basic information that should be received on the commencement of a role:

  • hourly rate or salary
  • location
  • commencing date
  • an approximation of how long the role will last
  • working hours, with any details of flexible working
  • person specification for the role
  • details regarding duties
  • health and safety risks and controls
  • any expenses to be incurred

Personal information restrictions

All information retained by an agency is highly confidential and all workers’ details are protected by the Data Protection Act – meaning they cannot give out information about you without your permission, unless this relates to legal proceedings or the request comes from a professional body of which you are a member.

Additional restrictions on what employment agencies can do prevent them from:

  • Signing a contract, or entering into any contract, verbal or written, on the behalf of a worker 
  • Filling a gap in a workforce brought about by a strike or industrial action


Apprenticeships are a type of employment aimed at helping someone begin a career in a particular field, especially one in which specialist skills are needed or particular qualifications required.

Apprentices count as employees and are therefore granted all the employment rights normally available. Despite receiving training, apprentices are still there to do a job and are therefore entitled to a regular wage, reasonable working hours including breaks, and holidays based on the amount of time they work.

Essentially, any of the rights found elsewhere in this section and granted to employees are also applicable to apprentices, with the exception of the National Minimum Wage, which has a special rate for those engaging in apprenticeships.

As of 1 October 2011, the minimum wage for apprentices is £2.73 an hour.

The National Minimum Wage for Apprentices applies to:

  • apprentices aged 16 to 18
  • apprentices aged 19 or over, within in the first year of their apprenticeship.

Apprentices aged over 19 who have been in their role for over a year are entitled to the regular National Minimum Wage for their age group, being treated like a regular employee in this regard.

Minimum wages for agricultural workers may differ.

Prior to April 2012, it was very difficult to dismiss an apprentice except for the worst forms of misconduct, as their purpose there was considered to be for educational reasons and therefore it was felt that it should not be easy for an employer to get rid of them. However, new legislation has meant that apprentices are now considered to be working under a contract of employment, which means they may be dismissed just as an employee can.

Essentially, apprenticeships which were formed prior to April 2012 are weighted far more in favour of the apprentice. These types of apprenticeship were considered to be primarily for the purposes of learning, rather than having the apprentice do a job for the employer.

Nowadays, the focus is on doing a job for an employer while simultaneously learning a trade, meaning that an underperforming apprentice can be dismissed just like any other employee. Of course, the reason for dismissal must still be fair and appropriate procedures must be followed.

Casual workers

A casual worker is one who is under no contractual obligation to commit to particular working hours, as with the permanently employed workforce, but instead has the option of accepting work that is offered.

The extent of employment rights allocated to a casual worker can be hard to establish at a glance, because it can at times be difficult to establish exactly what their working relationship with the employer actually entails. There are a number of different criteria which are used to identify what rights the worker has, but it comes down to whether they count as an employee, a worker or a self-employed individual.

If a casual worker counts as an employee, they will be entitled to the same rights as any other employee of the company. The employment rights of an employee are the strongest out of these three groups, protecting them against unfair dismissal, and, among other things, giving them the right to statutory sick pay, maternity, paternity and adoption pay, maternity and paternity leave, providing protection on a TUPE transfer and giving entitlement to a statutory redundancy payment.

In order to count as an employee, there must be an expectation (whether set out in a contract or agreed in other ways) that you are to work personally for the organisation in question, and there must be what is known as ‘mutuality of obligation’. This means that your purported employer must be obliged to offer work to you, and you must be under obligation to complete it rather than being able to pick and choose.

Legally, being an employee means that you have a contract of employment, but since a contract of employment can be hard to define, it is the two requirements above which are used to establish your employee or non-employee status.

If you are not an employee, you may still turn out to be a worker, which gives you less rights than a fully-fledged employee. You are a worker but not an employee if you personally complete tasks for another party while not acting as a commercial enterprise yourself, or act for them under any other contract that is not an employment contract.

If you are a worker, you will possess some basic rights. You will be protected against some kinds of discrimination, be subject to the Working Time Regulations, be entitled to the national minimum wage and protected against unlawful deductions from your wage, and receive protection under health and safety and whistleblowing legislation.

If you are neither an employee nor a worker, then you are likely doing work for the company in question on a self-employed basis, in which case the only employment rights you have in your dealings with the employer are limited discrimination protection, any specific rights which are set out in the contract under which you are working for them and certain common law protections.

Child and young workers

There are limitations on how many hours young people are legally permitted to work to ensure that employment does not get in the way of their education.

The youngest age that a child can begin work is 13, although there are exceptions for those employed in the theatre, television or modelling fields.

Children are limited to part-time work until they have officially left school, but the exact number of hours they are permitted to work gradually increases with age.

Those aged 13 to 16 are not allowed to work before 7am or after 7pm, and they must be granted a break of one hour following every four hours of work.

School-aged children are not entitled to the minimum wage; however, once they reach the minimum school leaving age, they count as ‘young workers’ and receive the age-appropriate National Minimum Wage which is currently £3.79.

There are rules establishing where children of school age are permitted to work, which may vary depending on the locality. General rules state that they cannot work during school hours or do any type of labour which could hinder their health, wellbeing or education.

They also cannot work in places which are deemed inappropriate for children, such as pubs, betting shops or factories.

School-aged workers must also be granted an annual two-week break from their job as a minimum, which must fall during their school holidays.

Regulations for workers aged 13 – 14 years old

On school days, children aged between 13 – 14 years old can only work a total of two hours per day, with no more than one hour of work taking place before they go to school. On Saturdays, they may do up to five hours of employment, and on Sundays up to two hours. However, the total number of hours in any week of term time must not exceed 12 hours.

During the school holidays, children within this age range can work for up to five hours on any day, with the exception of Sundays, which are still limited to two hours. Outside of term time, they can work for up to 25 hours each week.

Regulations for workers aged 15 – 16 years old

When a child turns 15, the number of hours they can work on a Saturday increases to eight hours.

The number of hours they can work on any day during a school holiday (except Sundays) also rises to eight, while the total number of hours they can work in a week increases to 35 during the school holidays.

Once a child reaches the minimum school leaving age, it is possible for them to begin full-time work. The last day of compulsory schooling is defined as the last Friday in June during the academic year (September to July) in which they turned 16. Once this takes place, they are instead classified as ‘young workers’.

Permitted hours for 16 to 17-year-old workers

Once the minimum school-leaving age has been reached, 16 year olds fall under the classification of ‘young workers’ and may begin to work up to 40 hours per week. They will also be entitled to the National Minimum Wage for that age range, currently £3.79 per hour.

When they reach the age of 18, they become subject to the usual rules of adult employment as laid out in the rest of the employment section.

Migrant workers

As a legal migrant worker, you are entitled to the same employment rights as a UK citizen. The laws in place are set out to ensure that employers treat their employees fairly, without exploitation or prejudice. When starting a new role you have basic rights that are likely develop further through continuous employment.

Every worker is entitled at the very least to their statutory rights. Any additional rights are dependent on the employment terms and conditions laid out within your contract of employment, should you have one.

Take a look at the rest of the Employment Law section for information on your rights as a worker.

If you are a European worker and want to come to the UK to work, your new employer will need to know if it is legal for you to do so. Find out if you will have to register and what proof you will need to show an employer.

Nearly all European Economic Area (EEA) and Swiss nationals are free to enter and live in the United Kingdom without the need to apply for permission.

EEA countries

The following is a list of all countries included as part of the EEA: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

European Union member states

An employee may need to register or ask permission if from a new European Union (EU) member state (called 'accession states').

What proof an employer will need

Employers offering work to nationals from an EEA country will require from the employee:

  • their passport
  • their national identity card
  • a Home Office registration certificate

No special permission is needed for nationals from the majority of EEA states.

A national from an A2 country will need express permission to work granted by the UK Border Agency, this comes in the form of a work document.

The employment of illegal workers can leave employers faced with unlimited fines, which is why many companies are very strict in their documentation procedures as due protection. This should never, however, be at the expense of any legal migrant workers, and is therefore no defence for discrimination.

Visa applications

A worker's right to work in the UK is dependent on an employee's nationality. If you are a British citizen, or from one of the European Economic Area (EEA) countries, there will be no need to apply for a visa.

In order to obtain a visa, a migrant must be cleared by officials at a British Overseas Mission in your national country. Upon receiving your clearance certificate, or visa, the details will be added to your passport or travel document.

Points-based system for non-EEA and non-Swiss nationals

For applications required for non-EEA and non-Swiss nationals, a points-based system was introduced. The system was introduced in 2008, with tiers being added at separate intervals.

The points based system is made up of five tiers, though only four are currently in operation:

  • Tier 1 - highly skilled workers
  • Tier 2 - skilled workers with a job offer
  • Tier 3 - low-skilled workers filling specific temporary labour shortages (this is currently suspended)
  • Tier 4 - students
  • Tier 5 - temporary workers and youth mobility

Tier 1

Introduced on 30 June 2008, to migrate to the UK or for visa extension an applicant must be a:

  • investor
  • highly skilled worker
  • post-study worker
  • entrepreneur

These rules apply also for those within the UK under the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme, replaced by the introduction of Tier 1.

Tier 2

Introduced on 27 November 2008, as a skilled worker with a job offer, i.e. nurse or teacher, you would qualify for Tier 2 as long as you have the following:

  • a Certificate of Sponsorship (provided by an organisation who has a UK Border Agency sponsorship licence)
  • evidence supporting the other criteria met in your application

Tier 3

The route for low-skilled workers known as Tier 3 is currently suspended.

Tier 4

Introduced on 31 March 2009, student admission is divided into two groups:

  • adult student
  • child student

The study must be provided by an approved education provider, holding a UK Border Agency Tier 4 sponsorship licence.

Tier 5

Introduced on 27 November 2008, and set out for youth mobility or temporary worker employment, you must have:

  • a Certificate of Sponsorship provided by an organisation who has a UK Border Agency sponsorship licence
  • evidence supporting the other criteria met in your application

Temporary workers

A temporary worker, also known as a ‘temp’, is often employed by an agency - though in some cases they may be a direct hire - to fill a temporary gap in employment, whether this is in order to cover an employee on leave, compensate for demand or simply supply flexible support to a busy workplace.

They have a number of the employment rights enjoyed by any other worker, though they may receive fewer of the benefits and boons offered by their employer.

Despite this, there are some rights which they will not be entitled to – for example, redundancy pay and unfair dismissal laws do not apply to them. Their job security is often fraught, which their employer sometimes able to put an end to their role with minimal notice.

Temporary employment rights

Though you may not have as many rights when doing temporary work, your employer must still treat you fairly.

You can still expect paid holiday, appropriate breaks and fair working hours. You are also entitled to the National Minimum Wage, and receive protection from discrimination.

Unless the employer can make a reasonable argument otherwise, any amenities open to other employees in a similar line of work should also be available to yourself.

Equal treatment after 12 weeks

After working for 12 weeks in a specific role, you could be in line to receive the same rights as any permanent employee in a comparable job, including hours worked, leave entitlement and wage agreements.

It is important to note, though, that if there are any breaks in your employment, they may affect the period of time you must work to receive such rights.

Not working for your employer for over 6 weeks, or switching to a completely different role, means that the counter resets.

Taking a break from work for less than 6 weeks, however, will simply pause the counter – once you return to work, you start accruing time towards your 12 weeks again, but the time you were off does not count towards it. This also applies if you take up to 28 weeks off work due to being injured, sick or required to attend jury service, if you take time off for a holiday, or if you cannot work due to a temporary closure of the workplace.

If your break is owing to pregnancy, occurs within the 26 weeks after childbirth, or is due to paternity or adoption leave, you continue to accrue time towards the 12 weeks during this period, although you are not working.

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