Basic rights of workers in the UK

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The UK has many laws that look out for the safety of workers, but as immigrants we don’t know our basic rights as well as we know them back home. Many people post on forums about the problems they’ve had at work, so let’s do an overview and clear things up.

The rules I am going to explain to you are the ones that apply in England, but sometimes there are some that are different in other parts of the UK. So if you live in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, use this site to check the variations on these laws:

As you can see, most of them are the same or similar than other EU country.

Rights at work

Your rights at work will depend on two factors: your general legal rights and your employment contract.

Your employment contract cannot take away your legal rights. So if, for example, your contract says that you are only entitled to two weeks of paid holidays a year, when by law all full-time employees are entitled to 28 days of holidays a year, this part of the contract is void and doesn’t apply. The right you have by law (28 days of holidays a year) applies instead.

If your contract gives you greater rights than the ones you have by law, for example, allotting you six weeks of paid holidays a year, then your contract applies.

There are special rules about the employment of young people (<19 years old):

Statutory rights

Statutory rights are legal rights based on laws passed by Parliament.

Almost all workers, regardless of the number of hours they work, have certain legal rights. There are some workers who are not entitled to certain legal rights (eg self-employed).

Sometimes worker earns a right when he or she has been employed by his or her employer for a certain period of time. When this applies, double check the rules (don’t trust everything you read on this site :P). Unless you are in the group of workers who are excluded, you will have the following legal rights:

  • the right to a written declaration of the conditions of work within two months of starting the job. This document must specify the following: position, salary, working hours, schedule, sick pay, notice, dismissal conditions, etc.
  • the right to a detailed payslip, which shows deductions and such. This applies from the day the employee starts to work. More about the right to compensation for your work:
    http://www.adviceguide.org.uk/england/work_e/work_rights_at_work_e/rights_to_pay.htm
  • the right to at least be paid the national minimum wage. This applies from the day the employee starts to work. Currently (24 October), this is £6,50 per hour for people over 21 years old. More about the right to be paid:
    http://www.adviceguide.org.uk/england/work_e/work_rights_at_work_e/rights_to_pay.htm
  • the right to not have illegal deductions in wages. This applies from the day the employee starts to work. This means that they can’t deduct or lower your salary for weird company-specific reasons.
  • the right to paid leave/holidays. Full-time employees are entitled to at least 28 days a year. Part-time workers are entitled to a prorated amount based on hours or days worked.
  • the right to time off for trade union duties and activities. This applies from the day the employee starts work. This time doesn’t necessarily need to be paid. Employees are also entitled to be accompanied by a union representative to a disciplinary hearing or a meeting about a complaint. If an employee participates in an official strike and is fired as a result, this will automatically be an unfair dismissal.
  • the right to receive payment/allowance for looking for work if you are fired. This applies if the employee has worked for the employer for two years. It is a redundancy compensation.
  • the right to leave/permission for studies or training for young people aged 16-17 years old. This applies from the day the employee starts to work.
  • the right to paid leave for prenatal care. This applies from the day the employee starts to work.
    the law to a paid maternity leave/time off license. Usually, you have 26 weeks (a maximum of 52) before you must go back to your old job. More information about maternity leave in the UK:
    http://www.adviceguide.org.uk/england/work_e/work_time_off_work_e/maternity_leave.htm
  • the right to paid paternity leave.
  • the right to request flexible working. More about how to apply for flexible working requests:
    http://www.adviceguide.org.uk/england/work_e/work_rights_at_work_e/basic_rights_at_work.htm#the_right_to_ask_for_flexible_working
  • the right to a paid leave/time off license for adoption.
  • the right to unpaid parental leave for both men and women (if they’ve worked for the employer for at least a year) and
  • the right to reasonable time off to take care of dependent persons in case of emergency (this applies from the day the employee starts working).
  • the right to work a maximum of a 48 hours a week, under the Health and Safety law. This applies from the day the employee starts to work. For more information read the Health and Safety rules:
    http://www.adviceguide.org.uk/england/work_e/work_rights_at_work_e/basic_rights_at_work.htm#Health_and_safety
  • the right, under the Health and Safety law, to weekly and daily rest periods. This applies from the day the employee starts work. There are special rules for night workers.
  • the right to not be discriminated against. This applies from the day the employee starts work.
  • the right to continue working until age 65.
  • the right to a notice of dismissal, as long as you’ve worked for at least a month for the employer.
  • the right to receive the reasons for dismissal in writing, provided you’ve worked for your employer for a year if you started working before 6 April 2012 or two years if you started working after that date. Pregnant women or women in maternity leave are entitled to the reasons in writing without having worked for any specific length of time.
  • the right to claim compensation if unfairly dismissed. In most cases, in order to claim unfair dismissal you will have to have worked for your employer for at least one year if you started working before 6 April 2012 or two years if you started working after that date.
  • the right to claim compensation for being dismissed, even if it’s justified. In most cases, you will have had to work for two years to be able to claim compensation for dismissal.
  • the right to not be discriminated against or dismissed for reporting a matter of public concern (malpractice) at the workplace. This applies from the day the employee starts to work.
  • the right of a part-time employee to the same contractual rights (pro rata) as a full-time employee.
    the right of a temporary employee (for work or service) to the same contractual rights as a permanent employee.

You can also have additional rights which may be created in your employment contract. In particular, the contract of a part-time worker should be revised.

If in doubt as to whether or not you are entitled to these statutory rights you should consult an experienced adviser, like the Citizen Advice Bureau.

Employees without general rights

Some workers aren’t entitled to certain legal rights. These are:

Anyone who is not an employee, like an agency or a self-employed person. However, most workers are entitled to certain rights, such as the national minimum wage, working time limits and other health and safety rights, the right not to be discriminated against and paid holidays.

For more information about the rights of agency workers, go here:

http://www.adviceguide.org.uk/england/work_e/work_rights_at_work_e/work_agency_workers_e.htm

Other workers who are not subject to the general rights are:

  • Employees who normally work outside of the UK
  • Members of the police service. However, they are covered by the anti-discrimination law.
  • Member of the armed forces. However, members of the armed forces are covered by the anti-discrimination law.
  • Merchant seamen and fishermen.
  • Some workers in the transportation industry are not legally entitled to holidays or limits on their working hours and they have to rely on their employment contract.
  • Doctors in training are not entitled to paid leave and have to rely on their employment contract. They are also limited to working 58 hours a week instead of 48.

Rights under the employment contract

The employment contract is an agreement between the employer and the employee. This could be a written agreement or something agreed verbally between them.

In addition, the employment contract will also include a “habits and customs” agreement. These things are usually done at the specific workplace, for example, the employer might always give the employees a day off in August. Even though this is not mentioned in the written agreement, this is part of the employment contract because it is usual practice.

If the written contract says one thing, but in practice all the employees have been doing something else with the knowledge and consent of the employer, the “habits and customs” would form the contract rather than the written statement.

A union may have negotiated an agreement with the employer about conditions at work. The negotiated agreement often is part of an employment contract, especially if the conditions negotiated are more favourable than the previous ones.

Illegal employment contracts

An employment contract is illegal if:

  • The employee receives all (or part) of their salary “cash on hand”.
  • The tax and social security contributions (PAYE and NIN) are not paid/deducted from the payroll.
  • The employee knows that they are being paid in a specific way to avoid paying taxes or NIN.

For more information about other issues or about the ones I have mentioned, you can visit two useful websites concerning work rights and regulations:

Have you ever had a problem at work or a contractual problem during your time in the UK?

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