Employees are well protected under Employment Law legislation. We have compiled a summary of the main rights an employee has. As an employer there is nothing to worry about, always follow procedure and check that your polices and procedures are up to date!
Statutory rights are legal rights based on laws passed by Parliament.
Nearly all workers, regardless of the number of hours per week they work, have certain legal rights. There are some workers who are not entitled to certain statutory rights.
Sometimes an employee only gains a right when they have been employed by their employer for a certain length of time, and when this applies, the length of time before the employee gains the right is listed below. Unless you are in the group of workers who are excluded, you will have the following statutory rights:-
- the right to a written statement of terms of employment within two months of starting work,
- the right to an itemised pay slip. This applies from the day the employee starts work.
- the right to be paid at least the national minimum wage. This applies from the day the employee starts work.
- the right not to have illegal deductions made from pay. This applies from the day the employee starts work.
- the right to paid holiday. Full-time employees are entitled to at least 28 days a year. Part-time employees are entitled to a pro rata amount
- the right to time off for trade union duties and activities. This applies from the day the employee starts work. The time off does not necessarily have to be paid. Employees also have the right to be accompanied by a trade union representative to a disciplinary or grievance hearing. If an employee takes part in official industrial action and is dismissed as a result, this will be an automatically unfair dismissal
- the right to paid time off to look for work if being made redundant. This applies once the employee has worked for two years for that employer
- the right to time off for study or training for 16-17 year olds. This applies from the day the employee starts work
- the right to paid time off for ante natal care. This applies from the day the employee starts work,
- the right to paid maternity leave.
- the right to paid paternity leave
- the right to ask for flexible working to care for children or adult dependents –
- the right to paid adoption leave
- the right to ask for flexible working
- the right to take unpaid parental leave for both men and women (if you have worked for the employer for one year) and the right to reasonable time off to look after dependents in an emergency (applies from the day the employee starts work)
- the right under Health and Safety law to work a maximum 48 hour working week. This applies from the day the employee starts work
- the right under Health and Safety law to weekly and daily rest breaks. This applies from the day the employee starts work. There are special rules for night workers
- the right not to be discriminated against. This applies from the day the employee starts work.
- the right to notice of dismissal, provided you have worked for your employer for at least one calendar month
- the right to written reasons for dismissal from your employer, provided you have worked for your employer for one year. Women who are pregnant or on maternity leave are entitled to written reasons without having to have worked for any particular length of time
- the right to claim compensation if unfairly dismissed. In most cases you will have to have worked for one year to be able to claim unfair dismissal
- the right to claim redundancy pay if made redundant. In most cases you will have to have worked for two years to be able to claim redundancy pay
- the right not to suffer detriment or dismissal for ‘blowing the whistle’ on a matter of public concern (malpractice) at the workplace. This applies from the day the employee starts work
- the right of a part-time worker to the same contractual rights (pro-rata) as a comparable full-time worker
- the right of a fixed-term employee to the same contractual rights as a comparable permanent employee.
You may also have additional rights which may be set out in your contract of employment. In particular, a part-time worker’s contract should be checked.
Workers not entitled to certain statutory rights
Some workers are not entitled to some statutory rights. They are:-
anyone who is not an employee, for example, an agency or freelance worker. However, most workers are entitled to certain rights such as the national minimum wage, limits on working time and other health and safety rights, the right not to be discriminated against and paid holiday.
- employees who normally work outside the UK
- members of the police service. However, members of the police service are covered by discrimination law
- members of the armed forces. However, members of the armed forces are covered by discrimination law
- merchant seamen and share fishermen
- some workers in the transport industry are not entitled to paid holidays or limits on their working hours by law and have to rely on their contract
- trainee doctors are not entitled to paid holidays and have to rely on their employment contract. They are also limited to working a 58 hour week, rather than 48 hours.
Rights under the contract of employment
The contract of employment is the agreement made between the employer and the employee. This could be in the form of a written agreement or what has been agreed verbally between them.
In addition, the contract of employment will also include ‘custom and practice’ agreements. These are how things are usually done in the workplace, for example, if the employer always gives the employees a day’s holiday in August. Even though this is not mentioned in the written contract this will form part of the contract of employment as it is the usual practice.
If the written contract says one thing, but in practice all the employees have been doing something else with the employer’s knowledge and agreement, the ‘custom and practice’ would form the contract rather than the written statement. A trade union may have negotiated an agreement with an employer about conditions at work. The negotiated agreement will often form part of a contract of employment, particularly if the conditions negotiated are more favourable than the previous ones.
Illegal contracts of employment
Some contracts of employment will be illegal if:-
- the employee gets all or part of their wages as ‘cash in hand’; and
- tax and national insurance contributions are not paid; and
- the employee knows they are getting paid in this way to avoid paying national insurance and tax.
Written statement of the main terms and conditions of employment
All employees, regardless of the number of hours they work per week, are entitled to receive a written statement from their employer, within two months of starting work. The statement describes the main terms of the contract of employment.
The statement must give details about:-
- job title
- hours of work
- holiday entitlement
- sick pay
- pension schemes
- grievance, dismissal and disciplinary procedure.
There are a number of statutory rights associated with wages.
For information about wages including information about the national minimum wage, illegal deductions from wages and rights to a pay slip.
Holidays and holiday pay
Nearly all workers are entitled by law to paid annual leave. Full-time workers are entitled to at least 5.6 weeks a leave year. If you work part-time, you're entitled to a pro rata amount. There are some workers who are not entitled to paid holiday.
Unless your contract of employment gives you bank holidays in addition to your statutory paid holiday, bank holidays are included when calculating your entitlement. So if, for example, you work full-time and you have eight days off in a year for bank holidays, you will be entitled to these eight days plus another 20 days of holiday.
Lay offs and short-time working
If your employer has no work for you to do, they may put you on short-time working or lay you off.
If you are laid off, you will not usually get paid. Short-time working means you will receive only part of your normal wage. This could affect your pension. It could also affect your tax position and any benefits you get. For example, if your hours fall below a certain level, this could affect any tax credits you get. Make sure you tell HM Revenue and Customs if your hours go down. It could also mean that, because your earnings have dropped, you become eligible for benefits that you couldn't get before, for example, Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit.
If you are laid off or put on short-time working, you may be entitled to a payment from your employer, called a ‘guarantee payment’.
In some cases, lay-offs or short-time working may be offered to you as an alternative to redundancy. In some cases, you may be able to claim a redundancy payment if you've been laid off or put on short-time working.
Many employees will be entitled to statutory sick pay if they are off work due to sickness. In addition, some employees may receive occupational sick pay from their employer but this will depend on their contract of employment.
Time off work
Almost all employees have a statutory right to take paid time off work for the following:-
- to carry out duties as a trade union official
- to carry out duties as a trade union health and safety representative
- to look for work if faced with redundancy
- to receive ante-natal care
- to have a baby, to take paternity leave, to take adoption leave or to ask for flexible working hours to care for a child
For more information about maternity, paternity and adoption leave and asking for flexible working hours.
- to study or train for employees aged 16-17
In addition, almost all employees have a right to take time off work, although not necessarily with pay, for the following:-
- to participate in trade union activities
- to perform ‘public duties’, for example, being a JP, local authority councillor or school governor
- to care for their children. People who have worked for their employer for one year have the right to unpaid parental leave. You are entitled to 13 weeks' unpaid leave before your child is five. However, if your child is disabled, you get 18 weeks' leave, which must be taken before the child is 18.
- to attend to unexpected problems with dependents, for example, where child minding arrangements break down. A dependent includes anyone who reasonably relies on the employee
The right to ask for time for training
In England, Scotland and Wales some people have the right to ask for time off work to do training. But even though you have the right to ask for time off, your employer doesn't have to give you this time off. If they do give you the time off, they don't have to pay you for it.
You have the right to ask for time off for training if:
- you are an employee
- you work for an organisation with 250 or more employees
- you've been working for your employer for at least 26 weeks when you make the request
- you don’t already have a legal right for paid time off to study or train. For example, you might already have this right if you're 16-18.
You can ask for time off to do any training, which would help you be more effective at work, and improve the performance of the business you work for. The training can be training that leads to a qualification, or that helps you develop skills at work. There's no time limit on the amount of time you can ask for.
The right to ask for flexible working
If you are the parent of a child under 17 (under 18 if your child is disabled) or caring for an adult, you have the right to ask your employer for flexible working. You must also have worked for your employer for at least 26 weeks.
Flexible working can include working part time, working school hours, working flexitime, home working, job sharing, shift working, staggering hours and compressing hours (where you work your total number of agreed hours over a shorter period).
Although you have the right to ask to work flexibly, your employer doesn't have to agree to it. However, they must give your request serious consideration and have a good business reason if they decide not to agree.
If you are asking for flexible working because you're a parent, you must be responsible for your child on a day to day basis.
If you are caring for an adult, the adult must be one of the following:
- your husband
- your wife
- your civil partner
- your partner
- a family relative, such as a mother, father, grandfather, brother or sister
- someone who isn't related to you, but lives at the same address as you.
You can make one request to work flexibly each year. This must be in writing. You should say how you think the change in your working pattern will affect your employer's business and how this might work in practice.
Your employer must also follow a standard procedure for considering your request. This includes having a meeting with you. If your employer wants to turn down your request for flexible working, they must give their reasons in writing. You have the right to appeal if your request is turned down. You must do this in writing, within at least 14 days of getting your employer's decision. You should give your reasons for appealing and make sure your appeal is dated.
If your appeal for flexible working is refused, you may be able to:
- ask ACAS to help you sort out your dispute with your employer (in Northern Ireland this is the Labour Relations Agency). ACAS has set up a flexible working arbitration scheme to deal with this type of dispute.
- complain to an employment tribunal.
You can only complain to an employment tribunal under certain circumstances, for example, where your employer hasn't followed the procedure properly for considering your request or where they haven't taken the right information into account when making their decision.
You may also be able to make a claim to an employment tribunal for sex discrimination. For example, you can make a claim if you are a man and your request to work part-time to look after your children is refused when a request by a female employee would be accepted. If you are a woman, you may be able to make a claim on the basis that refusing to allow you to work flexibly is 'indirect sex discrimination'. This is because more women than men have childcare responsibilities.
There's a strict time limit for making a claim to an employment tribunal. This is usually three months minus one day from the date when the thing you are complaining about last happened.
Health and safety
All employers have a statutory duty to take care of the health and safety of all their employees, for example, they should provide first aid equipment, and adequate means of escape in case of fire, protective clothing and ensure all machinery is safe.
In addition, there are specific rules which cover the following:-
- fire safety
- lifting and carrying heavy weights
- hazardous substances
- washing facilities
- drinking water
- first aid facilities
- hours and rests. Nearly all workers have the right not to have to work for more than 48 hours on average, a week. Night workers cannot work an average of more than eight hours in each 24 hour period. Workers aged 18 and over (adult workers) are entitled to one day off each week. Workers aged 16-18 (adolescent workers) are entitled to two days off each week. Adult workers are entitled to eleven hours consecutive rest per day, and a minimum 20 minute rest break if their working day is longer than six hours. Adolescent workers are entitled to 12 hours consecutive rest per day, and a minimum 30 minute rest break if they work for longer than four and a half hours
- use of computers
- smoking at work is banned.
Harassment and discrimination
Discrimination means treating someone worse than other people for some reason. You have rights not to be treated worse than other people at work because of your:
- pregnancy or maternity leave
- religion or belief
- sexual orientation
- gender identity.
Discrimination can be either direct or indirect. Direct discrimination occurs when someone is treated worse than other people for some reason. For example, if an Asian employee is not selected for promotion because of their race, this is direct race discrimination.
Indirect discrimination occurs where a particular employee cannot meet a requirement which is not justifiable in terms of the work and they are at a disadvantage as a result. For example, if the employer only gives training to full-time workers, this would indirectly discriminate against women, as most part-time workers are women.
Harassment is also a form of discrimination. Harassment can include verbal abuse, suggestive remarks and unwanted physical contact. You may also be discriminated against if you are victimised because you have tried to take action about discrimination.
If you've been discriminated against at work you can make a claim to an employment tribunal. There's a strict time limit for making a claim. This is usually three months minus one day from the date when the thing you are complaining about last happened. You should get advice about what to do before the time limit is up.
An employee has the right to join a trade union, and should not be refused a job, dismissed, harassed or selected for redundancy because they are a member of or wish to join a trade union.
An employee also has the right not to join a trade union if they wish, and should not be refused a job, dismissed, harassed or selected for redundancy because they refused to join.
A member of a trade union has the right to take part in trade union activities, for example, recruiting members, collecting subscriptions and attending meetings.
Trade union activities must take place either outside the employee’s normal working hours or at a time agreed with the employer. An employee has no right to be paid for this time off work unless their contract allows for this.
Trade union activities don't include taking industrial action, for example, going on strike. There are different rules about taking industrial action.
An employee should not be refused a job or dismissed because they are on a list because of their trade union activities or membership. It is also against the law to make, sell, supply or use a list to discriminate against people in a trade union.
Whistle-blowing at work
There is some protection for workers who are concerned about malpractice at work and who publicly disclose information about their employer’s activities. This is called ‘whistle-blowing’. The information disclosed must relate to:-
- a criminal offence
- a failure to comply with a legal obligation
- a miscarriage of justice
- a health and safety issue
- damage to the environment
- an attempt cover up any of the above.
Surveillance at work
Employers have the right to monitor their employees’ communications, provided they have warned them first that they are doing this. Employers can monitor, for example:
- postal communications
- telephone calls
- internet use
- by CCTV use.
In some circumstances, an employer can also monitor what their employees are doing by using CCTV.
Monitoring and surveillance is only permitted by law if:-
- the monitoring is relevant to the employer’s business
- the telecommunications system is provided for use partly or wholly in connection with the employer’s business
- the employer has made all reasonable efforts to inform users that their communications will be intercepted.
Ideally, an employer should have a code of conduct or policy about surveillance. If it has been agreed with the employees, it will form part of the contract of employment and can be the basis for disciplinary action or a grievance.
If you believe that your employer has been monitoring your communications in a way which is not permissible, there are a number of ways in which you can challenge this.
Notice of dismissal
Most employees have a legal right to a period of notice if their employer dismisses them. Many employees will have extra rights to notice under their contract of employment. There will always be a contract of employment, even if there is nothing written down. Even if the law or your contract of employment does not give you the right to a minimum amount of notice, you are still entitled to 'reasonable' notice.
In most circumstances, if your employer wants to dismiss you, they should follow a proper dismissal and disciplinary procedure. Before dismissing you, your employer should:
- send you a written statement, telling you why they want to dismiss you
- hold a meeting with you to discuss the matter
- hold an appeal meeting with you, if you want to appeal against your dismissal.
After the meeting with you, or the appeal meeting if there is one, your employer should make a final decision about what they are going to do, and tell you what it is. If they are still going to dismiss you, your employer should tell you when the dismissal is to take effect, and how much notice they are giving you. They do not have to do this in writing, but it would be good practice to do so. Notice of dismissal must be given directly to you and not through a third party, for example your trade union.
If you are not happy with your employer's decision and you think your rights have been ignored, you may be able to take your case to an employment tribunal (industrial tribunal in Northern Ireland). You may need to comply with the dismissal and disciplinary procedure first. If you do not, any future award you get from a tribunal may be reduced.
There's a strict time limit for making a claim to an employment tribunal. This is usually three months minus one day from the date when the thing you are complaining about last happened.
Who has no legal right to minimum notice
The law does not give the following employees the right to a minimum period of notice:-
- those employed for less than one calendar month by their employer. From 1 October 2002, the law gives some employees on fixed-term contracts who have worked for their employer for one month, the right to notice
- Crown servants
- seamen employed on a ship registered in the United Kingdom under a crew agreement
- employees who have been dismissed for gross misconduct.
If you have been dismissed because of gross misconduct, you may want to make a claim to an employment tribunal. There's a strict time limit for making a claim to an employment tribunal. This is usually three months minus one day from the date when the thing you are complaining about last happened. You should get advice about what to do before the time limit is up.
If you have no legal right to notice, you will still be entitled to 'reasonable' notice or the notice your contract gives you. For more information about 'reasonable notice'. However, if you have been dismissed for gross misconduct, you will not be entitled to any notice under your contract, or any 'reasonable' notice. For this reason, it is important to check the real reason for the dismissal.
How much notice should you get
The law gives all employees the right to a minimum amount of notice, except those listed under the heading Who has no legal right to minimum notice. This period of notice is:-
- one week for employees who have worked for their employer for one month but less than two years; or
- two weeks if the employee has worked for their employer for two whole years; and
- one extra week for each further whole year's employment at the date the notice period expires, up to a maximum of twelve weeks' notice in total.
However, if you are being dismissed because you are 65, or above normal retirement age, the rules about notice are different.
Your contract of employment may give you more notice than the minimum the law gives you. However, you can never get less than the minimum, no matter what your contract says.
If your contract does not specify a period of notice, you may still have the right to a minimum period of notice because of custom and practice. For example, if everyone who works for your firm has always been given at least three weeks' notice, you would have the right to this much notice.
If the law does not give you the right to notice, and there is no notice period in your contract (whether written, spoken or through custom and practice), you will still be entitled to 'reasonable' notice. What is reasonable will often depend on your pay period. For example, if you are paid weekly, you could argue that a week is reasonable, and if you are paid monthly, you could argue that a month is reasonable.
How much notice is an employer entitled to
The notice you should give your employer before resigning should be in the contract. If your contract does not say how much notice you must give your employer then, if you have worked for one month or more, the minimum notice you should give is one week. If you have worked for less than one month, the notice period should be reasonable
If your contract says you must give your employer more notice than this, you must give the amount of notice in your contract. Your contract may set out how much you must give, whether it must be written, and/or when you should give it.
If an employer withholds money owed because you gave incorrect notice
If you leave your job without giving proper notice, your employer may try to withhold part or all of the money owed to you. In general, employers are not legally entitled to withhold money owed, unless your employment contract allows for it.
Are you entitled to be paid in your notice period
If you work your normal working hours in your notice period, you are entitled to be paid your normal pay. You may not be able to work during the notice period because you are:-
- willing to work but are given no work to do
- on holiday
- off work through sickness or injury.
If you do not work during the notice period for one of the reasons above, the law says you should usually still get your normal pay. However, there is an exception to this rule. If your contract gives you at least one week's notice more than the law gives you, you lose your legal right to be paid during the whole of the notice period.
Does my employer have to give me a reference?
Usually, you don't have a right to a reference from your employer. But your employer does have to give you a reference in some situations, for example:
- if your contract says they have to give you a reference
- where the reference is needed by a regulatory body. This might be a body like the Financial Services Authority so they can make sure people employed to give financial advice are qualified to do this.
There are different reasons why your employer might refuse to give you a reference. If you think your employer won't give you a reference for a reason related to your race, disability, sexual orientation, age, religion or belief or gender reassignment this might be discrimination.
Do I have a right to see a reference written about me?
Your previous or current employer doesn't have to show you a reference they've written about you. So if you want to see a reference that's been written about you, you should make a request to the employer the reference was sent to. You should make this request under the Data Protection Act. The employer will then work out whether they can show you the reference, in line with the Data Protection Act.
Can my employer write a bad reference about me?
Your employer has a duty to write an accurate reference about you, and shouldn't mislead the employer asking for the reference. But some information shouldn't be included in a reference, unless you agree to it. This is information like your medical records, or information about spent criminal convictions.
Pay in lieu of notice
If your employer has dismissed you without giving you the notice you are entitled to either by law or by your contract, your employer should pay you in lieu of notice. ‘In lieu’ means ‘instead of’. This is also called severance pay. The only exception to this is when you have been dismissed because of gross misconduct.
The amount of pay in lieu of notice you should get will depend on how much notice your are entitled to. You should get pay in lieu at the rate of your normal wages. For example, if you are entitled to four weeks' notice, but are only given one, you will be entitled to three weeks’ pay in lieu of notice. You may be entitled to more than this, depending on what your contract says.
Shop-workers who work in large shops (over 280 square metres) have certain rights if they are asked to work on Sundays.
Shop-workers includes betting shop workers. Employees of a catering business do not count as shop-workers and are not protected from having to work on Sundays. This includes employees of pubs, restaurants and cafes.
Shop-workers have the same rights to limits on hours of work and entitlements to rest breaks, under Health and Safety law, as other workers -
Shop-workers who started working for their employer before 26 August 1994 (6 April 2004 in Scotland; 4 December 1997 in Northern Ireland)
If you are a shop-worker, and you started working for your employer before 26 August 1994 (4 December 1997 in Northern Ireland) you are called a protected shop-worker. If you do not wish to work on Sundays you do not have to, and if your employer tries to dismiss you because you refuse to work on Sundays, you can automatically claim unfair dismissal at an employment tribunal (industrial tribunal in Northern Ireland). This is regardless of how long you have worked for your employer, of whether you work full-time or part-time and of how old you are.
If you are a protected shop-worker you must not be treated unfairly by your employer because you do not wish to work on Sundays.
Shop-workers who started working for their employer after 26 August 1994 (6 April 2004 in Scotland; 4 December 1997 in Northern Ireland)
If you started working for your employer after 26 August 1994 (6 April 2004 in Scotland; 4 December 1997 in Northern Ireland), you may be required to work on Sundays. However, unless you are employed to only work on Sundays, you may opt out of Sunday working. You have to give your employer three months' notice of your objection to working on Sundays. This notice must be in writing, and you must date and sign it. During the three-month notice period your employer may require you to work on Sundays. After that, if you give notice in the correct way and you work the three-month notice period, you have the right not to be dismissed or be treated unfairly for refusing to work on Sundays. If you are dismissed, it will count as an automatically unfair dismissal.
Christmas Day working
Large shops (over 280 square metres) in England and Wales are not allowed to open on Christmas Day. This is regardless of which day of the week it falls on. This means that if you work in one of these shops, you must be given Christmas Day off. However, whether or not you will be paid will depend on your contract of employment.