Employment Rights

Not everyone who works has the same employment rights. Some casual workers, agency workers and volunteers are not classed as “employees” for the purposes of employment law. This section applies to “employees” only: if you are uncertain whether or not you are an “employee” please see a Just Ask adviser or take a look at the Government’sguidance.

Employment rights fall into two categories. Certain rights and responsibilities are set out by Parliament in law: these are the minimum terms, conditions and protections you can expect from your employer and are known as your “statutory rights”. Your employer may agree additional duties and benefits with you as part of your employment contract; these are known as your “contractual rights”. Your contractual rights cannot override or undermine the minimum rights and protections you enjoy in your statutory rights.

+ Contracts of Employment

All employees have an employment contract, regardless of whether they have anything in writing [Read more]

All employees have an employment contract, regardless of whether they have anything in writing. A contract is formed by your employer offering you a job and you accepting it. You and your employer are then bound by the terms offered and accepted. Contracts can therefore be oral, written or implied (or a mixture of any of those): if a contract is not written it will be more difficult to say decisively what are your contractual rights and duties, but it doesn’t mean that you don’t have a contract.

If you have a contract, and you think your employer has breached the terms of it, you should seek advice straight away. There are very strict timescales for bringing cases to an employment tribunal.

All employees are entitled (under section 1 of the Employment Rights Act 1996) to a “written statement” setting out certain particulars of their employment. This should be given to you no more than 2 months after you start work, even if you will only be employed for two months.

Your written statement, by law, has to contain the following information:

  • your name and your employer’s name
  • your job title or a brief job description
  • the date when your employment began
  • your pay rate and when you will be paid
  • your hours of work
  • your holiday entitlement
  • where you will be working (if you are based in more than one place it should say this along with your employer’s address)
  • sick pay arrangements
  • notice periods
  • information about disciplinary and grievance procedures
  • any collective agreements that affect your employment terms or conditions
  • pensions and pension schemes
  • if you are not a permanent employee how long your employment is expected to continue, or if you are a fixed term worker the date your employment will end
  • any disciplinary or dismissal procedures that your employer has, including who you can apply to (either by name or description, for example job title) if you have a problem in the workplace or are not happy with a disciplinary or dismissal decision.

A written statement is not, in itself, an employment contract and it won’t necessarily cover all of the terms of your employment, but it can be strong evidence of what you have agreed for certain terms.

If your job offer letter and/or employment contract contain all the information listed above, there is no need for a separate written statement.

If you do not receive a written statement, it is best to raise this informally first with your employer. If you still don’t receive a written statement (or receive a statement which doesn’t include all the required information), you can refer the matter to an employment tribunal.

+ Minimum Wage

You can be paid in one of three ways: hourly, by salary or by output [Read more]

Most employees in the UK are entitled to be paid the national minimum wage (“NMW”). The NMW depends on your age, and the current rates are:

  • aged 21 and over - £6.70

  • aged 18-20 - £5.30

The Pay and Work Rights Helpline, or a Just Ask adviser can give you further information and advice on the NMW if you have any problems.

+ How You're Paid

You can be paid in one of three ways: hourly, by salary or by output [Read more]

You can be paid in one of three ways: hourly, by salary or by output. Hourly (ie, you get paid a certain amount per hour) is most common for part time employees. Being paid by salary usually means you are paid a total annual amount in equal monthly instalments. It’s not very common for students to be paid this way. Output work is trickier, it’s work that is paid according to the number or tasks you complete, sales you make or items you produce. For example, £5 per 1000 letters you fold; 50p per ticket you sell or 10p per flyer you hand out. Even if you are paid on an output basis, you should still be earning the minimum wage. If you have any concerns, speak to a Just Ask adviser.

+ Payslips

Your pay rate and when you will be paid should be set out in your written statement. [Read more]

Your pay rate and when you will be paid should be set out in your written statement. As an employee, you are entitled to a payslip on or before payday unless you are a member of the police service or (possibly unlikely) a merchant seaman, master or crew member who is working in a particular way. If you’re not sure whether you are entitled to a payslip, come and see a Just Ask adviser. If you are entitled to a payslip, each payslip should include:

  • the amount of your wages before any deductions (known as your “gross wages”)
  • the individual amount of any fixed deductions (such as trade union subscriptions)
  • individual amount of any variable deductions (such as tax)
  • your total wages after deductions (known as your “net wages”)
  • the amount and method for any part-payment of wage (such as separate figures for a cash payment and for a BACS transfer)  

+ Deductions From Pay

Your statutory rights protect you against your employer making deductions from your pay. [Read more]

Your statutory rights protect you against your employer making deductions from your pay, Your employer is not allowed to make a deduction unless:

  • it is required or allowed by law (such as national insurance or tax) 
  • you agree in writing to a deduction
  • your contract of employment says that they can
  • it is a result of any statutory disciplinary proceedings
  • there is a statutory payment due to a public authority
  • you have not worked due to taking part in a strike or industrial action
  • it is to recover an earlier overpayment of wages or expenses
  • it is a result of a court order or Employment Tribunal decision

If your employer makes (or tries to make) a deduction from your pay, or asks you to agree to a deduction, we strongly recommend that you speak to a Just Ask adviser.

If your employer becomes insolvent, you may be able to claim for outstanding pay. A Just Ask adviser can help you through the process.

+ Hours

You cannot be forced to work more than 48 hours a week on average. [Read more]

You cannot be forced to work more than 48 hours a week on average. The ‘average’ is usually calculated over 17 weeks, but if you are a member of a trade union or work in a certain profession (such as a trainee doctor) there may be a longer average period. You may be asked to opt out of the 48 hour limit, but this is voluntary and must be in writing. You can’t be sacked or treated unfairly (such as being refused promotion) for refusing to opt out. If you do choose to opt out, you can cancel that agreement whenever you want – you have to give at least 7 days’ notice, but your employer cannot require you to give more than 3 months’ notice.

There are extra statutory protections for people classed as “night workers” if you work for at least 3 hours between 11pm and 6 am on a regular basis, you will be a night worker. If you’re a night worker:

  • performing general duties, you can’t work more than an average of 8 hours in each 24 hour period (ie, you can work 7 hours one night and 9 the next, to give you an average of 8)
  • performing work with special hazards or mental/physical strain, you can’t work more than 8 hours in any 24 hour period (ie, there’s no average – it’s an absolute rule)
  • your employer has to identify, and takes steps to reduce, any risks or hazards you face doing night work and offer you a health check at least once a year.

Unlike the 48 hour limit, you cannot opt out of the limits on night working hours.

+ Breaks

Most employees have the right to take breaks. There’s no statutory right to paid breaks... [Read more]

Most employees have the right to take breaks. There’s no statutory right to paid breaks, but your employment contract may provide that you will be paid. Generally, you are entitled to:

  • a 20 minute (uninterrupted) break if you’re expected to work more than 6 hours at a time - this can’t just be taken off the end of your shift, but otherwise your employer can specify when you’ll take it
  • at least 11 hours break between your shifts
  • either 24 hours (uninterrupted) off per week or 48 hours (uninterrupted) per fortnight

There are some exceptions to these general rules, and you can choose not to take such breaks if you wish. There is no right to cigarette or tea/coffee breaks – though most (but not all!) employers will allow them as long as they don’t affect your work.

+ Holidays

All employees have a statutory right to 5.6 weeks’ paid holiday per year. [Read more]

All employees have a statutory right to 5.6 weeks’ paid holiday per year. A ‘week’ is your normal working week, so if you work 5 days a week you are entitled to 28 days holiday per year but if you only work 3 days a week, your holiday entitlement will be 16.8 days. If your job is more casual, and you work irregular hours (most students do), it may be easier to calculate your holiday as a percentage of the hours you work. To do this, multiply the hours you work by 0.1207. It works out as about 7 minutes holiday for every hour you work!

Holidays are normally managed through “holiday years”, this is the annual period your employer will use for calculating/allowing you to take holidays (such as 1 June to 31 May). Your holiday year should be described in your employment contract; if it isn’t or you don’t have a contract, your year will run from the day you start work. If you start a new job part way through a holiday year then you will be entitled to a proportion of your holiday, depending on how long is left in the holiday year. Your entitlement will then re-set at the start of the new holiday year. Remember that your holiday year is likely to be different from the academic year and/or the tax year.

Some other important points about holidays:

  • there’s no statutory right to bank holidays – unless your employment contract says otherwise, they will be included in your 5.6 weeks
  • your employment contract can give you more holiday days – the 5.6 weeks statutory entitlement is a minimum
  • your employment contract may require you to take holidays in certain ways (such as restricting you to a maximum of two weeks’ off at a time, or requiring you to take time off when the premises are closed, such as at Christmas)
  • you can’t choose when you will take your holiday – you have to agree it with your employer, and may have to give them a certain amount of notice

+ Dismissal

If your employer dismisses you, they have to show that... [Read more]

If your employer dismisses you, they have to show that:

  • they had a valid reason for doing so (such as you not doing your job properly – a full list of fair reasons is available here)
  • they have acted reasonably in the circumstances.

Although it’s good practice to be told the reasons for your dismissal, you are only entitled to a written statement of the reasons for your dismissal if:

  • you are have been employed by your employer for a year or more
  • you are employed under a fixed-term contract which has expired and is not to be renewed
  • you were dismissed while pregnant or on maternity or adoption leave

You can contest a dismissal on two grounds. Unfair dismissal is where you are dismissed without a good reason, or the procedure followed in dismissing you is unfair. You can normally only bring a claim for unfair dismissal if you have been an employee for a year or more, Wrongful dismissal is where you are dismissed for a reason or in a way which breaches your employment contract.

If you are dismissed, your employer should give you notice. For certain behaviours (such as violence), you can be dismissed instantly. If you’re not given the correct notice you can ask your employer for payment instead (ie, the wages you would have received if you had worked during the correct notice period).