A Complete Handbook to Employee Rights

Find out all you need to know regarding employee rights.

Equality and employee rights at work concept

Do you know what the minimum wage you should be earning is or how much notice an employer should provide you with when refusing your leave request? Do you know what your employee rights are as a new parent or when you’re being monitored at work?

All these questions, and more, are answered in this comprehensive look at your rights at work. Simply click on a letter below to begin exploring different terms.



Adoption Leave and Pay

If you adopt a child, you may be entitled to up to 52 weeks of Statutory Adoption Leave, and you may also be entitled to Statutory Adoption Pay. Your employer may offer a more generous adoption scheme (check your employment contract or employee handbook for details), but they cannot offer you anything less than what you are statutorily entitled to.

Statutory Adoption Leave (SAL)

Employed adopters are statutorily entitled to 52 weeks of adoption leave, regardless of their length of service and hours worked. The first 26 weeks are collectively known as Ordinary Adoption Leave (OAL) followed by an additional 26 weeks known as Additional Adoption Leave (AAL). You do not have to take the full 52 weeks off.

If a couple jointly adopt a child, only one partner can take SAL. The other can take paternity leave or shared parental leave instead (see the relevant sections for details). Meanwhile, the main adopter can take time off to attend up to five adoption placement meetings while the secondary adopter may be able to take time off for up to two meetings. Time off is capped at 6.5 hours per meeting.

To qualify for SAL, you must:

  • be an employee;
  • give your employer at least 7 days’ notice (28 days for overseas adoptions or 15 weeks before the expected week of birth if using a surrogate); and
  • provide your employer with proof of the adoption or surrogacy if they ask for it.

You do not qualify for SAL if you:

  • adopt a stepchild;
  • adopt a family member;
  • arrange a private adoption; or
  • become a special guardian or kinship carer.

Adoption leave can start:

  • up to 14 days before the date the child starts living with you;
  • when the child arrives in the UK or within 28 days of this date (overseas adoptions); or
  • the day the child is born or the day after (if using a surrogate).

If the date of placement changes, you must provide your employer with at least 28 days’ notice. The same applies for arrival dates for overseas adoptions.

If you want to change your return to work date, you must give your employer at least 8 weeks’ notice.

Your employment rights are protected while you’re on SAL. This includes your right to pay rises, accrue holiday and return to work.

Statutory Adoption Pay (SAP)

To qualify for SAP, you must have worked for your employer for at least 26 weeks by the time you received notice you have been matched with a child. You must also:

  • give your employer at least 28 days’ notice from the date you want your SAP to start;
  • earn an average of £112 per week, before tax; and
  • provide your employer with proof of the adoption or surrogacy.

If you qualify for SAP, this will be payable for up to 39 weeks. The first 6 weeks will be paid at 90 per cent of your average weekly earnings. The remaining 33 weeks will be paid at £139.58 per week or 90 per cent of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower). SAP is paid the same way as your wages. This means that tax and National Insurance will be deducted from the amount you are entitled to.

SAP begins on the date you take your SAL.

Alcohol and Drugs Policies

Your employer has the right to, with your consent, perform alcohol and drugs tests. But, tests should:

  • be random;
  • be limited to employees that need to be tested; and
  • not single out particular employees for testing unless this is justified by the nature of their jobs (if they work in the transport or energy generation industries, for example, or after an accident).

You cannot be forced to provide a sample of blood, hair, saliva or urine for any purpose, but you may face disciplinary action if you refuse to take an alcohol or drugs test when your employer has good grounds for testing.

If your employer has a zero tolerance policy on alcohol and drugs, they can dismiss you on the grounds of gross misconduct if you fail a test, especially if your job is safety-critical such as driving a lorry or operating machinery.

Antenatal Appointments

You’ll have a number of antenatal appointments during your pregnancy, usually between 7 and 10, although you may require more as each pregnancy is different from the next. These appointments can be arranged with a midwife or an obstetrician, for example, and can include classes such as breastfeeding workshops.

Your employer must give you time off for such appointments and pay you your normal rate for this time off.

Fathers, partners and civil partners of a pregnant woman are entitled to time off to accompany her to a maximum of two antenatal appointments. There is no legal right to paid time off for this, although employers may allow employees to take paid time off under their terms of employment.

If you’re adopting a child, you may take paid time off for up to five appointments. Your partner will only be entitled to take unpaid time off for a maximum of two appointments. The right to two unpaid antenatal appointments also extends to surrogate parents.

Automatic Pension Enrolment

By the end of 2017, employers of all sizes must by law offer a workplace pension scheme to all their employees. They must automatically enrol into the pension scheme if:

  • you are over 22 and under State Pension age;
  • earn a minimum of £10,000 a year; and
  • work in the UK.

You, along with your employer and the UK government, will pay into your pension.

If you do not qualify, you may still be able to join the scheme, but your employer does not have to make a contribution if you earn the following amounts (or less):

  • £486 per month;
  • £112 per week; or
  • £448 per 4 weeks.


Bank and Public Holidays

Your employer is not legally obligated to give you paid leave on a bank or public holiday, and if you do receive paid leave on a national holiday, it may count toward your 5.6 weeks’ annual entitlement (see: Holiday Entitlement). Some employers offer their staff paid leave on bank holidays in addition to the 5.6 weeks they are statutorily entitled to.

This means you may be allowed 5.6 weeks of holiday, plus:


England and Wales

Northern Ireland


New Year’s Day

1 January

1 January

1 January

New Year Holiday



2 January

St Patrick’s Day


17 March


Good Friday

Date variable

Date variable

Date variable

Easter Monday

Date variable

Date variable


May Day

First Monday in May

First Monday in May

First Monday in May

Spring Bank Holiday

Last Monday in May

Last Monday in May

Last Monday in May

Battle of the Boyne / Orangemen’s Day


12 July


Summer Bank Holiday

Last Monday in August

Last Monday in August

First Monday in August

St Andrew’s Day



30 November

Christmas Day

25 December

25 December

25 December

Boxing Day

26 December

26 December

26 December

If a bank holiday falls on a weekend, a substitute weekday – normally the following Monday – becomes a bank holiday. For example, New Year’s Day (1 January) fell on a Sunday this year but it was actually observed on 2 January in England, Wales and Northern Ireland; in Scotland, but, it was observed on 3 January as 2 January is another bank holiday.

Meanwhile, if you end up working on a bank or public holiday, you will not automatically be entitled to an enhanced pay rate. You will get paid what your contract says you will.

Being Monitored at Work

Your employer has the right to monitor you in the workplace. This can be done in a variety of ways, including:

  • CCTV recording;
  • drug testing (see Alcohol and Drugs Policies);
  • opening mail or email;
  • checking phone logs or recording phone calls;
  • checking logs of websites visited; and
  • bag searches.

Your employer must have a valid reason to monitor you (it relates to the business, for example, or to ensure your personal safety) and must tell you about any policies or procedures that are in place, except in extremely limited circumstances (to monitor criminal activities or malpractice, for example). Failure to do so can be a breach of the Data Protection Act – this also extends to intrusive monitoring like installing CCTVs in toilets.

Searches should be done by someone of the same sex and with a witness present.

Meanwhile, employees should be aware of what is and isn’t allowed in the workplace, like making personal calls or accessing certain websites.


According to Section 57(A) of the Employment Rights Act (1996), all employees are allowed ‘time off for dependants’ (see below). This effectively gives you the right to time off to deal with an emergency, like the death of a spouse, partner, child, grandchild, parent or someone who depends on you for care. This includes taking time off to arrange or attend a funeral.

There is no set length of leave workers can take in these circumstances, and is often subject to employer discretion. The usual amount is one or two days, and your employer is not legally obligated to pay you for your time off – again, this is subject to employer discretion.

If you feel that you need more time off work to deal with the loss of a loved one, speak to your employer to see what arrangements can be made. You may be able to apply to use a period of your paid annual leave.

Breastfeeding at Work

There is currently no legal right for an employee to take time off for breastfeeding or expressing milk, nor is there any legislation that requires employers to provide specific facilities where employees can express milk. But, breastfeeding employees do have some legal protection under health and safety and sex discrimination legislation.

Key Points

  • If you continue to breastfeed upon returning to work, you should notify your employer in writing that you are breastfeeding. They are then legally required to conduct a specific risk assessment to identify any workplace risks that may pose a threat to the breast milk itself (like mercury contamination or drying up, for example) which could, in turn, put your baby’s health at risk. If any risks are identified, your employer must take every reasonable measure to remove them or to prevent your exposure to them. For example, temporary adjustments to your working conditions could be made to avoid working night shifts or overnight stays, or to simply work shorter shifts. Meanwhile, if your job involves extensive travel away from home, for example, or at the advice of your GP, you may be given a temporary transfer to alternative work or additional rest breaks. In extreme cases where no reasonable adjustments can be made, you must be suspended on full pay.
  • You could make an application for flexible working if you need changes to your hours of work, days of work or place of work. A flexible working request, if agreed, is usually a permanent change to your contract, so you will need to discuss it with your employer if the changes you want are only temporary.
  • Your employer cannot reject your flexible working request, unless there are good business reasons behind their decision. Otherwise, it could constitute as indirect sex discrimination.
  • According to the Health and Safety Executive, employers are legally required to provide pregnant and breastfeeding employees with a place to rest in the workplace. This includes somewhere to lie down. Employers may also provide a private, healthy and safe environment (a first aid room, a spare office or, in larger employers, a mother and baby room) for employees to express and store milk, although there is no legal requirement for them to do so. Although private, toilets are never a suitable place to breastfeed a baby or express milk. As of 1 October 2011, agency workers have the same rights to access the same facilities that employees do.
  • There are no legal restrictions on breastfeeding at work, and an employer cannot prevent you from doing so unless there are legitimate health and safety risks or if you work in a single sex service for men, provided that that service is justified (where only one sex needs the service or where one sex needs it more than the other, for example).
  • You are legally protected against sexual harassment. This means that you cannot be treated unfairly in the workplace because you are breastfeeding. Your employer is also legally obligated to prevent banter, no matter how well-intended, that you find offensive or humiliating.


Contracts of Employment

A contract of employment is an agreement between an employee and an employer, and sets out the employment conditions, rights, responsibilities and duties. It is generally made up of:

  • Statutory terms – The terms which are required and regulated by UK law. Even if your contract does not specifically state what you are statutorily entitled to (5.6 weeks’ paid holiday, for example), you are still entitled to it.
  • Express terms – These have been specifically mentioned, whether in writing or orally, and have been agreed by both parties. This could be the amount you are to be paid.
  • Implied terms – These generally are what are considered as too obvious to need to include in a contract, like agreeing not to steal from your employer or to have a driving license to work as a driver.
  • Incorporated terms – These are the terms that have been put into a contract from a company policy, collective agreement (an agreement negotiated between an employer and employees’ representatives from trade unions or staff associations, for example) or employee handbook. References to such documents make them contractually binding in their entirety.

Key Points

  • An employment contract does not have to be written down to be legally valid, but it is better if it is to avoid any potential misunderstandings further down the line.
  • Both parties must stick to the terms outlined in the contract until the contract ends or until the terms are changed.
  • An existing contract can only be varied with the agreement of both parties. If any changes have been made, the employer must provide the employee with written notice of the changes made within one month of having taken effect.
  • A contract starts as soon as you accept a job offer made by an employer. Starting work simply proves that you accept the terms and conditions offered by the employer.
  • If, for example, you agree to paint someone’s house or otherwise offer your services, this is called a ‘contract to provide services’. It is not an employment contract.

Criminal Record Checks

Employers can carry out a criminal record check on potential employees, but it is illegal to turn someone down for a job if they were convicted of an offence that is ‘spent’ (unless a check shows that they are unsuitable). Convictions that are spent are those which, under the terms of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act of 1974, can be effectively ignored after a certain period time known as the ‘rehabilitation period’.

Rehabilitation periods are shown in the table below:



Rehabilitation Period (from end of sentence)

Custodial Sentence

0 – 6 months

2 years

6 – 30 months

4 years

30 months – 4 years

7 years

More than 4 years


Non-custodial Sentence

Community order

1 year


1 year (from date of conviction)

Absolute discharge



Simple caution


Conditional caution

3 months (from date of issue)

These periods are halved when you’re under 18. For example, if you are 16 and served a custodial sentence of 18 months, your rehabilitation period ends 2 years after the end of your sentence. This does not apply to cautions.

Note that there are different rehabilitation periods in Northern Ireland and Scotland.

You don’t need to tell potential employers about a spent conviction or caution, though it will appear on a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check. But, you do need to disclose any spent or unspent convictions if you’re applying for certain professions like working with children, for example. An employer can legally withdraw a job offer in such a case.

There are four main types of DBS checks:

  • A basic check is issued by Disclosure Scotland. It does not list any spent convictions and is usually arranged by the applicant for a fee of £25 at the request of an employer who can’t check your record. You can apply online for a basic check here.
  • Standard checks are available to employers and registered bodies only. They list all convictions, cautions, reprimands and final warnings, both spent and unspent. Standard checks are available for all jobs and activities listed in the ROA Exceptions Order.
  • An enhanced check contains all the information that a standard check includes, plus any additional information held by local police that is considered relevant to the role the applicant is applying for.
  • An enhanced with list check is like an enhanced check but also includes a check of the DBS’ Children and Vulnerable Adults barred lists. These are lists of people who have been barred from working with children or vulnerable adults, respectively. Employers are forbidden by law to employ someone or allow them to volunteer for this kind of work if their name appears on one or both of these lists.



A dismissal is when your employer terminates your employment. This is also known as being sacked. Your employer has the right to dismiss you, so long as they have a valid reason they can justify and they have acted reasonably in the circumstances. They can do this with or without giving you notice, depending on your particular situation.

Your employer must be consistent on why they dismiss employees. For example, they cannot sack you for doing something that they let other employees do. They must also investigate the situation before dismissing you – for example, if a complaint has been made against you.

Reasons You Can Be Dismissed

  • You’re not able to do your job properly: This includes not being able to get along with colleagues or to keep up with important changes to your job (a new computer system, for example). Your employer must follow disciplinary procedures and give you a chance to improve before dismissing you in this case.
  • You’re being made redundant: Your employer must have selected you for redundancy in a fair and objective way; otherwise, your dismissal can be viewed as unfair.
  • You have a persistent or long-term illness: Your employer must first look for ways to support you and do everything possible to accommodate you, and give you reasonable time to recover from your illness. If you’re dismissed because of a disability (which includes long-term illnesses such as cancer), it may constitute grounds for unlawful discrimination.
  • Your employer can no longer employ you: This could be because your place of work was destroyed in a bombing or fire, for example, and your employer can, therefore, no longer employ anyone.
  • Your continued employment would break the law: For example, if you work as a lorry driver but you lost your driving license.
  • On the grounds of gross misconduct: This includes damaging workplace equipment and property; the discovery of false information on your job application; being violent to or harassing other employees; and engaging in illegal activities (embezzlement, for example). Your employer should have investigated the situation before dismissing you.
  • Some other substantial reason: For example, you’re sent to prison.

Unfair Dismissals

Your employer cannot fairly dismiss you in certain situations, including when you:

  • ask for flexible work;
  • apply for maternity, paternity or adoption leave;
  • take maternity, paternity or adoption leave;
  • join a trade union;
  • resign and give the correct notice period;
  • ask for time off for jury service;
  • take part in legal industrial action for 12 weeks or less;
  • blow the whistle on your employer for any wrongdoing in the workplace; and
  • are forced to retire (compulsory retirement).

Constructive Dismissals

A constructive dismissal occurs when an employee is forced to resign as a result of the employer creating a hostile work environment. This can include letting other employees bully or harass you, not paying you, demoting you for no reason and making you accept changes to how you work. It is generally advised to immediately leave your job if you have a case for constructive dismissal, as your employer could argue that you accepted the conduct or treatment by staying on.

Key Points

  • You must be given at least the notice stated in your contract or the statutory minimum notice period (see Notice Periods and Pay), whichever is longer. Some situations allow employers to immediately dismiss employees without giving them any notice (for example, when they are violent to other employees).
  • You have the right to request your employer for a written statement giving the reason(s) for your dismissal if you have completed two years of service (one year if you started your job before 6 April 2012). Your employer must provide you with this statement within 14 days of your request.

Dress Code and Appearance

Employers may ask employees to dress a certain way at work to project a corporate image, for example, or to wear a hairnet when they’re working with food for hygiene reasons. They might even require employees to not wear any loose clothing when operating certain machinery, or they might ask them to wear a uniform so that customers can easily identify them.

Key Points

  • When an employer introduces a dress code, they should ensure that it relates to the job and that it is reasonable in nature. For example, they may ask employees with long hair (both men and women) to tie their hair back if they work in a restaurant kitchen. Likewise, they may require that all employees working on a building site wear hard hats.
  • Dress codes should apply to both men and women. They should not be discriminatory to either group, although standards can be different. For example, women may be asked to wear formal business attire while men may be asked to also wear a tie. On that note, women cannot be forced to wear high heels while their male counterparts are allowed to dress more casually.
  • Some companies may have a more casual dress code but still implement a ‘no flip flop’ policy, for example, as a health and safety precaution. Any restrictions or special requirements should be clearly set out in the organisation’s policy. Employees who do not comply with a company dress code could face disciplinary action.
  • Employers can ask you to pay for your uniform, but most usually provide clothing, a shopping allowance or a discount on clothing for their employees. This largely depends on how unusual the uniform is. For example, McDonald’s provides its employees with a full uniform for free and suitable footwear at a discounted rate.
  • Your employer may ask you to cover tattoos or remove piercings while at work to promote a certain professional image, especially when dealing with customers. But, many companies are becoming increasingly accepting of tattoos.
  • Employers cannot implement workplace dress regulations or uniform policies that directly, or indirectly, discriminate employees with a particular religion or belief, or lack thereof. They can, however, ask employees to remove a particular religious symbol or type of dress if they have justifiable grounds to do so – for example, a Christian nurse could be asked to remove their cross for health and safety purposes. This policy, however, does not necessarily extend to receptionists. Meanwhile, employers can change the dress code on religious grounds for one employee but this will not affect other staff.
  • There is no law in the UK that makes it legal for a company to require staff to be clean-shaven. But, if this is agreed in your contract of employment, then your employer has every right to insist that you are clean-shaven when at work. Generally speaking, such a policy should be justified – for example, for hygiene reasons when working with food. Employers may also choose to provide employees with beard nets.



There is no law in the UK that prohibits smoking electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes), also known as vaping, in the workplace. According to smoke-free legislation, the act of smoking requires a substance to be burnt and, therefore, does not apply to e-cigarettes.

But, that being said, an employer can choose to ban vaping at work as, although odourless, the vapours could be annoying to other workers and could pose a health risk through passive consumption as the long-term effects of e-cigarettes are still unknown.

As many employees smoke e-cigarettes as an aid to quit smoking (according to a 2014 report published by the Office for National Statistics, this holds true for 53% of the estimated 2.2 million e-cigarette smokers), employers may choose to be accommodating by assigning designated smoking areas and allowing smoking breaks.

Employment and Support Allowance

You may be able to claim Employment Support Allowance (ESA) if you’re ill or disabled, which offers you financial support if you’re unable to work or personalised help so that you can work if you are able to.

To apply for ESA, you must:

  • be under State Pension age;
  • not receive Statutory Sick Pay or Statutory Maternity Pay and have not returned to work; and
  • not receive Jobseeker’s Allowance.

You’ll also need to have a Work Capability Assessment. You’ll receive a letter telling you where to go when you make your claim, which will explain what you need to do.

You can apply for ESA whether you’re employed, self-employed, unemployed or on Disability Living Allowance or Personal Independent Payment.

The assessment rates for ESA are as follows:

  • £57.90 a week for 13 weeks if you’re under 25; and
  • £73.10 a week for 13 weeks if you’re 25 and over.

After that, you’ll be entitled to one of the two following rates:

  • up to £102.15 a week if you’re placed in a work-related activity group (which entails attending regular interviews with an adviser who can help you with things like improving your skills); or
  • up to £109.30 a week if you’re placed in a support group (which you’re usually placed in if your illness or disability severely restricts what you can do).

Employment Rights

Statutory Rights

Statutory rights are the legal rights based on the laws that were passed by the UK parliament. These include the right:

  • to a written statement of terms and conditions of employment;
  • to paid adoption leave;
  • to not be discriminated against;
  • to the same contractual rights of a fixed-term employee;
  • to request flexible working;
  • to an itemised pay slip;
  • to paid maternity leave;
  • to paid time off for antenatal care;
  • to be paid at least the National Minimum Wage;
  • to paid holiday;
  • to unpaid parental leave;
  • to paid paternity leave;
  • to continue working until you’re at least 65 years old;
  • to time off for study or training for people aged between 16 and 17;
  • to notice of dismissal;
  • to claim compensation if unfairly dismissed;
  • to take time off for trade union duties and activities;
  • to not have illegal deductions made from pay;
  • to not suffer detriment or dismissal for ‘whistleblowing’;
  • to work a maximum of 48 hours a week;
  • to daily and weekly rest breaks;
  • to the same contractual rights of a part-time worker;
  • to paid time off to look for work if being made redundant; and
  • to claim redundancy pay.

Not everyone is entitled to some of these rights, however. This includes:

  • anyone who is not an employee (a freelance worker, for example);
  • employees who normally work outside the UK;
  • members of the armed forces and the police (though they are covered by discrimination law); and
  • merchant seamen and share fishermen.

Contractual Rights

In addition to your statutory rights, you may also be entitled to further rights which have been set out in your contract of employment or in the terms and conditions of your employment. These are not required by law but once they’ve been agreed upon between you and your employer, your employer must abide by them. If they do not, it could be considered a breach of contract.

Contractual rights could include things like additional paid holiday. For example, while you’re statutorily entitled to 28 days’ paid leave, your employer could choose to offer you 30 days instead. They, however, cannot take away the rights you were given by law – meaning, they can’t offer you a day less than what the law requires them to.

Employment Status

Your rights at work largely depend on your employment status – that is to say whether you’re a worker, an employee or self-employed.


You’re classed as a worker if you work to the terms of a contract of employment and generally carry out the work yourself. You may also be able to send someone else to carry out the work – like a subcontractor, for example. Agency, casual, freelance and seasonal workers fall under this category.

Workers are covered by some statutory rights, including:

  • the National Minimum Wage;
  • working time limits;
  • holiday entitlement;
  • protection against unlawful discrimination; and
  • protection from ‘whistleblowing’.


Generally speaking, if you work for a business under a contract of employment, you’re considered an employee. As an employee, your employer must take off Income Tax and National Insurance contributions from your salary or wages before paying them to you.

Employees enjoy all of the rights and protections that workers do, plus:

  • time off for emergencies;
  • the right to request flexible working;
  • protection against unlawful dismissal;
  • statutory redundancy pay;
  • minimum notice periods if their employment is ending;
  • statutory sick pay; and
  • statutory maternity, paternity, adoption and shared parental leave and pay (workers only receive pay, not leave).

As an employee shareholder (an employee who has between £2,000 and £50,000 worth of shares in his employer’s company or parent company), you are entitled to most statutory rights, plus the right to collective redundancy consultation and transfer of undertakings.


You’re considered self-employed if you run your own business and take full responsibility for its success or failure. As you are, essentially, your own boss (making up your own hours and taking as much holiday as you want), you are not entitled to any of the statutory rights that most workers and employees are covered by.

But, you are entitled to some legal protection. For example, you cannot be discriminated against, and you are also entitled to a safe and healthy working environment on your client’s premises.

You can be both an employee and self-employed. For example, you could work for someone else during the day and run your own business at night.

Equality and Discrimination

The Equality Act 2010, which came into force on 1 October 2010, makes it illegal to be discriminated in the workplace because of:

  • age (whether you’re younger or older than a comparable employee);
  • disability (a physical or mental impairment, like an HIV infection);
  • gender reassignment;
  • marriage and civil partnership;
  • pregnancy and maternity;
  • race (including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin);
  • religion or belief (or lack thereof);
  • sex (including equal pay); and
  • sexual orientation.

These are known as ‘protected characteristics’.

The law protects you from workplace discrimination, including:

  • recruitment;
  • pay and benefits;
  • employment terms and conditions;
  • promotion and transfer opportunities;
  • training;
  • dismissal; and
  • redundancy.

Types of Discrimination

There are four main types of discrimination:

  • Direct discrimination: This means directly treating someone with a protected characteristic less favourably than others.
  • Indirect discrimination: This is when certain rules are put in place or arrangements are made that apply to everyone but put someone with a protected characteristic at an unfair disadvantage.
  • Harassment: This is unwanted or unwelcome behaviour towards you which is meant to or has the effect of violating your dignity or creating a degrading, hostile, humiliating, intimidating or offensive environment. This could come in the form of a threat, a prank or an offensive email.
  • Victimisation: This happens when you’re treated badly for making a complaint about discrimination or for supporting someone else’s claim.

You’re also protected from discrimination by association, meaning when you’re associated with someone who has one of these characteristics (a family member or a friend, for example).

The Equality Act protects all employees as well as job applicants and agency workers from all types of discrimination.

Discrimination can come from a colleague, an employment agency, someone an employment agency arranges you to work for or directly from your employer. You can also take action against your employer if they do not take reasonable steps to prevent workplace discrimination (for example, when a colleague bullies you for being transgender but your employer allows it to happen).

When Is Discrimination Justified?

Sometimes people may be allowed to legally discriminate against you in the workplace, as long as they have a good enough reason to do so. In legal terms, this is known as objective justification.

To be justified, the person who is discriminating against you must show that it is a ‘necessary and proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim’.

For example, an employer advertises a position for a web developer which requires that applicants have at least 5 years’ experience. A female applicant who was rejected for the role because she took time off to look after her children would normally be able to make a claim for indirect sex discrimination. But, the employer may be able to justify this if they can show that it would not be possible for the applicant (whether male or female) to do the job properly without the specified amount of experience.


Flexible Working

Flexible working means working a different work pattern to the way you currently work. This could be having flexible start and finish times, working from home, job sharing or working part-time.

All employees have the legal right to request flexible working. You’ll typically need to have been employed by the same employer for a minimum of 26 weeks.

You’ll need to apply in writing to your employer who then must consider your request and make a decision within three months. If they agree your request, they’ll need to make suitable changes to the terms and conditions of your employment contract. If it is rejected, on the other hand, your employer must write to you explaining the reasons why, and you may be able to make a claim to an employment tribunal if you do not agree with their decision.

You are only able to make one flexible working request per year.


Holiday Entitlement

Everyone, except self-employed people, is legally entitled to 5.6 weeks’ worth of paid annual leave. To calculate how much annual leave you’re entitled to, simply multiply the number of days you work a week by the statutory annual entitlement of 5.6 weeks.


Example 1


Alan works 5 days a week.


5 working days x 5.6 weeks = 28 days' annual leave


Example 2


Karen works 4 days a week.


4 working days x 5.6 weeks = 22.4 days' annual leave

Holiday entitlement is capped at 28 days. This means that if you work 6 days a week, you can only take 28 days’ annual leave, not 33.6 days (6 days multiplied by 5.6 weeks). But, your employer can choose to offer you more holiday leave than the minimum legal requirement. There are no rules for this but your holiday entitlement should be clearly specified in your terms of employment if you are given more than the usual 28 days’ paid leave. Note that your employer has the right to set rules as to when you become entitled to take the additional leave – you may be required to work for a certain amount of time before you can request it.

Key Points

  • Your entitlement to paid leave begins on your first day at work, but you will have to provide your employer with ample notice of your intention to take time off. The general notice period is twice as long as the length of the planned holiday. For example, if you want to take one day off work, you will need to provide at least two days’ notice.
  • Your employer can restrict when you take time off work (during busy periods, for example), but they can’t keep you from taking time off at all. They can even determine the maximum amounts of leave you can take on any one occasion and the number of employees who can be off work at the same time. If they do refuse your request, they must give you as much notice as the length of your planned holiday. For example, if you’re planning to take two weeks off, but your employer refuses your request on the basis that the office will be understaffed during that period, they must notify you at least two weeks beforehand.
  • You’re entitled to the normal rate of your wages when you’re on paid leave. For example, if you normally earn £400 in a normal 5-day workweek, you’ll still be paid £400 if you take 5 days off.
  • Your employer can make you take time off work when they want you to rather than when you’d like to. But, they must provide you with twice as much notice as the length of leave you’re being made to take. For example, if the office is to close for two weeks for renovations, your employer is required to provide you with a minimum of four weeks’ notice.
  • The EU Working Time Directive requires all member countries to guarantee 4 weeks (20 days for a 5-day workweek, 16 for a 4-day workweek, etc) of annual paid leave to workers, and will be lost if not taken. The directive also specifically says that they cannot be carried over to the next leave year. But, since the UK allows for a minimum of 5.6 weeks’ annual leave, employees are entitled to an additional 1.6 weeks which can be carried over from one leave year to the next if left unused.
  • If you were sick, injured, pregnant, on maternity leave or otherwise unable to take the statutory leave you are entitled to, you are allowed to carry over a maximum of 4 of your 5.6 weeks’ leave entitlement. When annual leave is carried over because you were on sick leave, it must be taken within 18 months of the leave year in which it accrues. Any holiday left unused beyond that will be lost.
  • If you’re leaving your job part-way through the leave year, you may be able to take whatever is left of your statutory annual leave. For example, if you started work on 14 March 2016 and left your job on 19 September of the same year, you are entitled to 14.5 days’ holiday (for a 5-day workweek). If you already took 12 paid days off work, then your employer owes you another 2.5 days. But, if you were unable to take these days off before leaving your job, your employer is legally required to pay you in lieu – even if you were dismissed for gross misconduct. Use the holiday entitlement calculator to see how much leave you are owed, if any.


Industrial Action

Industrial action happens when workers either go on strike or take other action (ie: refuse to work overtime). Employers can sometimes stop their workers from working or coming back to work during a dispute – this is known as a lockout.

You have the statutory right to take industrial action against your employer, and they can’t legally force you to stay at or go back to work. But, this depends on whether or not a ballot was properly organised (this is when your trade union holds a vote).

If you take industrial action, your employer can view this as a breach of contract and they can refuse to pay you for the time you are on strike. They can also sue you for breaking your contract, though this rarely happens.

You can’t be dismissed if you take industrial action if:

  • the action was called as a result of a properly organised ballot;
  • the action involves a trade dispute between an employer and their workers; and
  • the employer was provided with detailed notice about the action a minimum of seven days before it was set to begin.



Jury Service

While your employer is not legally required to allow you time off for jury service, they could be fined for contempt of court if they don’t. You can delay jury service if the time you are called for is inconvenient (ie: during a busy period at work) but you can only do this once in a 12-month period and you’ll need a letter from your employer explaining why.

Your employer doesn’t have to pay you for the time you take off (usually 10 days, but some trials take longer) but you can make a claim of the following from the court:

  • daily travelling allowance (the cost of your journey from your home or work to the court);
  • meal allowance (if the court does not provide you with a meal): £71 per day up to 10 hours or £12.17 per day over 10 hours; and
  • financial loss allowance (including loss of earnings and childcare expenses).

If you make a claim for financial loss, your employer must fill out a Certificate of Loss of Earnings or Benefit. You can see the maximum allowance payable in the table below:

Length of Jury Service

Time Spent in Court

Maximum Daily Allowance You Can Claim

First 10 days

Less than 4 hours


First 10 days

Over 4 hours


Day 11 to day 200

Less than 4 hours


Day 11 to day 200

Over 4 hours


After day 201

Less than 4 hours


After day 201

Over 4 hours


If your employer sacks you for taking time off work for jury service, you can make a claim for unfair dismissal to an employment tribunal. But, if your employer told you your absence would have a negative effect on their business and you didn’t ask for your call-up to be postponed, the dismissal is likely to be fair.


Lay-Offs and Short-Time Working

When there is a temporary reduction of work, your employer might choose to make changes to your employment contract rather than make you redundant. You might be laid off, put on short-time working or told to take unpaid leave if it is a short-term situation (for example, when business slows down during the Christmas season).

A layoff is when your employer tells you not to turn up for work for at least one day. This can also be described as an unpaid holiday rather than a layoff but it is still a lay-off.

Short-time working is when your work hours are reduced by at least 50 per cent, and your pay is reduced accordingly.

There is no limit to how long you can be laid off or put on short-time working, but you may be able to apply for redundancy and claim redundancy pay if it’s been 4 weeks in a row, or 6 weeks in a 13-week period (you’ll need to resign to get redundancy pay).

You should get full pay unless your contract allows for unpaid or reduced pay lay-offs. If you’re unpaid, then you are entitled to guarantee pay which is a maximum of £26 a day for 5 days in any 3-month period. If you usually earn less than £26 a day, then you’ll get your normal daily rate, and your pay will be worked out proportionately if you work part-time.

Living Wage

The ‘real’ Living Wage is independently calculated by the Living Wage Foundation, according to the true cost of living in the UK, and is separate from the government’s higher statutory minimum wage referred to as the National Living Wage (see below) which was introduced in April 2016.

The Living Wage rates are announced on the Monday of the first week of November of each year, and they’re currently set at £8.45 (in the UK) and £9.75 (in Greater London) – that’s £1.25 and £2.55 more than the government’s minimum standard, respectively. The rates apply to everyone over the age of 18.

The Living Wage is a voluntary higher rate of base pay; employers have no legal requirement to pay it. But, accredited employers who have signed an agreement with the Living Wage Foundation are required to pay their staff at least the ‘real’ Living Wage rates as set out in the agreement.


Maternity Allowance

Women who do not qualify for Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) may instead be entitled to Maternity Allowance (MA). How much you get depends on your eligibility. MA is paid to you by the government rather than your employer.

You might qualify for MA for 39 weeks if one of the following applies to you:

  • you are employed, but you are not entitled to SMP;
  • you are self-employed and pay Class 2 National Insurance; or
  • you recently stopped working.

You must also:

  • have been employed or self-employed for a minimum of 26 weeks in the 66 weeks before your baby’s due; and
  • have been earning £30 or more a week for a minimum of 13 of the 66 weeks (they do not need to be in a row).

If you meet these criteria, you will be eligible to £139.58 a week or 90 per cent of your average weekly earnings (whichever is less) for 39 weeks. If you have not paid enough Class 2 National Insurance but still meet all the other criteria, you will be eligible to £27 a week for 39 weeks.

You might also be able to get MA at £27 a week for 14 weeks if you’re not employed or self-employed but your spouse or civil partner runs a business, and you’ve been helping them without pay.

You can start getting MA up to 11 weeks before your baby is due.

Maternity Leave and Pay

If you’re a pregnant employee, you are allowed up to 52 weeks of Statutory Maternity Leave, provided that you give the correct notice. You don’t have to take the full 52 weeks if you don’t want to, but you must take the first 2 weeks following the birth of your child (4 weeks if you’re a factory worker).

Statutory Maternity Leave (SML)

Pregnant employees are allowed a total of 52 weeks’ maternity leave (though employers can choose to offer a more generous scheme). The first 26 weeks are known as Ordinary Maternity Leave and are followed by a further 26 weeks’ Additional Maternity Leave.

To qualify for SML, you must:

  • be an employee (workers only qualify for maternity pay – more on that later); and
  • provide your employer with the correct notice (at least 15 weeks before your due date).

You may also qualify for SML if your baby is born early, stillborn after the start of your 24th week of pregnancy or dies after birth.

You do not qualify for SML if you have a child through surrogacy. Instead, you can take Adoption Leave and Pay (see above).

The earliest you can take SML is usually 11 weeks before the week of expected childbirth. Leave can also start either the day after the birth of your baby if it is early, or automatically when you’re off work for a pregnancy-related illness four weeks before the week your baby is due.

Your employment rights are protected while you’re on SML. This includes the right to pay rises, accrue holiday and return to work.

Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP)

SMP is payable for up to 39 weeks. The first six weeks will be paid at 90 per cent of your average weekly earnings (before tax). The remaining 33 weeks will be paid at either £139.58 per week or 90 per cent of your average weekly earnings, whichever is lower. SMP is paid the same way as your wages. This means that tax and National Insurance will be deducted from the amount you are entitled to.

To qualify for your SMP, you must:

  • have worked for your employer for at least 26 consecutive weeks up to the qualifying week (15 weeks before the expected week of childbirth);
  • earn an average of at least £112 per week;
  • provide your employer with at least 28 days’ notice from the date you want your SMP to start; and
  • provide your employer with proof you’re pregnant (a letter from your doctor or a midwife, for example).

SMP begins on the date you take your SML.


National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage

The National Minimum Wage (NMW) changes on a yearly basis, every 1 October. The National Living Wage (NLW) changes every 1 April. The current rates are as follow:


Under 18

18 to 20

21 to 24

25 and Over






The government-backed National Living Wage was introduced on 1 April 2016 and applies to all workers and employees aged 25 and over. It is currently set at £7.20 and will rise 4 per cent to £7.50 on 1 April 2017. The NLW was launched under former Chancellor George Osborne’s vision in a bid to get it to £9 an hour by 2020.

Key Points

  • The rate for apprentices applies to those aged under 19 and those aged 19 and over who are in the first year of their apprenticeship. If you’re 19 and over, and have completed your first year, then you automatically become entitled to the correct rate for your age. For example, if you’re 23 and in your second year, you should be earning a minimum of £6.95 per hour.
  • It is illegal for an employer to pay their staff anything less than the National Minimum Wage and is punishable by fines of up to £20,000 per worker. Find out if you’re being paid the minimum wage or if your employer owes you any past payments by using the government’s simple calculator.
  • To qualify for the NMW, you must be at least school leaving age (16 on the last Friday in June of the school year). For the NLW, you must be at least 25.
  • Almost everyone is entitled to the NMW or NLW, though there are some exceptions including self-employed people, volunteers or voluntary workers, company directors, people on a government employment programme and family members or people who live in the family home of the employer (an au pair, for example).

Night Working

Working nights is defined as someone who works at least three hours during the night (between 11pm and 6am). They can, however, agree on a different period with their employer; this should not exceed 7 hours and must include midnight to 5am.

As a night worker, you should not work more than an average of 8 hours in a 24-hour period, which is calculated over a reference period of 17 weeks (this could be 52 weeks for some workers). You cannot opt out of the limit.

Young workers (aged between 16 and 17) aren’t allowed to work between midnight and 4am. Generally speaking, they can’t work between 10pm and 6pm but there are exceptions if they work in:

  • advertising, artistic, cultural or sporting activities;
  • agriculture;
  • a hospital;
  • a hotel or catering; and
  • post or newspaper delivery

There are exceptions to night working limits.

Employers must carry out a risk assessment to identify any special hazards and work that involves mental or physical strain. People who work in such circumstances cannot work more than 8 hours in any 24-hour period.

Your employer must also offer you a free health assessment before you become a night worker, though you do not need to accept it. You must also be offered regular assessments while you work nights.

Notice Periods and Pay

Both employees and employers are legally entitled to a minimum period of notice if an employment contract is being terminated. This notice period should be one of the main terms and conditions of employment (see the relevant section below for more information).

Generally speaking, the notice period is:

  • one week if you’ve been employed by the same employer for one month or over, and for less than two years; or
  • two weeks if you’ve been employed by the same employer for two years. You are also entitled to an additional week of notice for every further year of continuous employment. This is capped at 12 weeks.

Your employer can set out the notice period in your employment contract. For example, they may require a minimum of one month’s notice, rather than the statutory minimum of one week.

Your employer can also dismiss you without notice on the grounds of gross misconduct. This includes theft, violence, physical abuse, gross negligence or a serious breach in health and safety.

Although not required, it is generally advised that notice is provided in writing to avoid any misunderstandings. The notice period begins on the start of the following day that notice was given.

You are entitled to your normal pay and benefits during your notice period. Payment in lieu of notice is possible in some cases – check your terms of employment for details.



Working beyond your normal working hours (overtime) can either be compulsory or voluntary, and your employer does not need to pay you for this. If they choose to, it must not fall below the National Minimum Wage (see the appropriate section above). Your contract or terms of employment should state what the overtime pay rates are if you are expected to ever work more than your usual working hours.

Some employers may choose to offer time off instead of paying employees for overtime but, again, there’s no law that requires them to. Your employer may have rules as to when you can take time off (usually at a time that suits them).


Parental Leave

If you’ve worked for your employer for at least one year, you are entitled to up to 18 weeks’ unpaid parental leave for each child and adopted child up to their 18th birthday. You may choose to take parental leave to spend more time with your children, look at new schools, spend more time with family (to visit grandparents, for example) or to settle children into new childcare arrangements.

To qualify for parental leave, the following requirements must be met:

  • the child is under 18 years old;
  • you have been employed in the company for at least one year;
  • you are named on the child’s birth or adoption certificate;
  • you are not self-employed or a worker; and
  • you are not a foster parent.

Key Points

  • You are allowed to take up to four weeks unpaid parental leave in one year for each child. But, your employer may agree to offer you more time than this.
  • You can only take leave as whole weeks, not individual days (unless your employer agrees otherwise or your child is disabled). A week is defined as the number of days you work a week (for example, if you normally work five days a week, a week of parental leave will equal five days). If you work irregular weeks, the number of days in a week of parental leave is calculated by the number of days you work a year divided by 52.
  • You must provide a minimum of 21 days’ notice before your intended start date. If you or your partner is having a baby or adopting, then it is 21 days’ notice before the week the baby or child is expected. Your employer has the right to request proof (a birth certificate, for example) as long as it is reasonable to do so (they can’t ask for proof every time you request parental leave, for example).
  • You cannot carry leave over from a previous job. For example, if you used 12 out of the 18 weeks you are entitled to with a previous employer, you are only entitled to take up to another 6 with your new employer.
  • Your employer can postpone your leave request, as long they have a good enough reason to do so (it would cause serious disruption to the business, for example), and must provide an explanation why within seven days of your request. They can suggest a new start date (which should be within six months of the original start date requested) but they can’t change the amount of leave that was requested. Meanwhile, your employer cannot postpone leave if it’s being taken by the father or partner immediately after the birth or adoption of a child, or if it means you would no longer qualify for it (after the child turns 18, for example).
  • While on paternity leave, your employment rights are fully protected. This includes the right to pay, holidays and returning to a job.

Paternity Leave and Pay

You may be entitled to paternity leave and pay if your partner is having a baby, adopting a child or having a baby through a surrogacy arrangement.

Statutory Paternity Leave (SPL)

To qualify for paternity leave, you must be one of the following:

  • the biological father of the child;
  • the husband or partner of the baby’s mother (you don’t have to be married);
  • the child’s adopter; or
  • the intended parent, if you’re using a surrogate.

You must also:

  • be an employee;
  • have worked for a minimum of 26 consecutive weeks with the same employer by the end of the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth; and
  • provide your employer with at least 15 weeks’ notice (at least 7 days if you’re adopting or using a surrogate).

If you meet these requirements, you might be eligible for either one or two weeks’ paid SPL. A week, in this case, is defined as the number of days an employee works a week. So, for example, if you work four days a week, you will be able to take either four or eight days’ leave, depending on how much you wish to take.

You will need to notify your employer how much leave you’d like to take and when you’d like to take it at least 15 weeks before the baby is expected. If you need to change the date, you will have to give your employer at least 28 days’ notice. You can only take SPL within 56 days of your baby’s birth.

While on paternity leave, your employment rights will be fully protected. This includes the right to pay rises, accrue holidays and return to work.

Statutory Paternity Pay (SPP)

The SPP rate is £139.58 per week or 90 per cent of your average weekly earnings, whichever is lower. This will be paid the same way as your normal wages. This means Income Tax and Social Insurance will be deducted from the amount.

To qualify for paternity pay, you must provide your employer with at least 15 weeks’ notice before the baby is expected.

Pay Deductions

Generally speaking, your employer cannot make any deductions from your pay unless you’ve agreed to it in writing, either in your employment contract or in a separate agreement. This could be for things like damaged stock, till shortages, the cost of a uniform or the cost of a training course.

They’re also allowed to take money from your pay for:

  • Income Tax and National Insurance contributions;
  • student loan repayments;
  • an earlier overpayment of wages;
  • time you didn’t work because you were on strike;
  • deductions you have been ordered to pay by a court;
  • buying shares or share options in the business;
  • accommodation provided by your employer; and
  • union subscriptions, pension contributions, etc.

Meanwhile, if you work in a shop, bar or restaurant, your employer cannot take more than 10 per cent of your pay before tax on each pay day to cover any shortfalls (damaged stock or a till shortage). For example:

There’s a shortfall of £40 in your till which your employer will deduct from your gross weekly earnings of £200. However, they can only take 10 per cent (£20) of your earnings. This means that they will cut £20 from your pay one week and another £20 from the next to cover the total shortfall of £40.


All employees are legally entitled to individual written payslips and must be provided on or before payday. Your employer does not have to provide you with a payslip if you are:

  • a contractor, freelancer, worker, etc;
  • a member in the police service;
  • a merchant seaman; or
  • a master or crew member working in share fishing.

Payslips must show:

  • your earnings before any deductions;
  • your earnings after any deductions; and

the amount of any deductions (for tax or Social Insurance, for example).

Probationary Period

A probationary period is a trial period, commonly three to six months long, during which time an employer assesses an employee’s suitability for the role and business.

When you start working for a new employer, your terms of employment may stipulate that you undergo a probationary period. This clause will usually contain information about certain rules you have to follow or ‘special rights’ your employer is entitled to. For example, it might state that you are not able to take paid holiday during this period or that your employer can terminate your employment without notice.

But, this is not legal. While your contract can contain terms, which are less than favourable, surrounding your probationary period, your employer cannot take your statutory rights away from you. Generally speaking, you are legally entitled to your full employment rights from the first day you start work and not when your probationary period ends.

Meanwhile, your employer may choose to extend your probationary period if they need more time to assess your performance, under the terms outlined in your contract.



Redundancy is a form of dismissal from your job and occurs when your employer needs to reduce the workforce, close the business or when certain work is no longer needed.

If you’re being made redundant, you might be eligible to certain rights, including:

  • Statutory redundancy pay: You must be an employee and have worked in the company for a minimum of two years to become eligible. How much you are entitled is dependent on your age: half a week’s pay for each full year you worked if you’re under 22; one week’s pay for each full year you worked if you’re over 22 and under 41; and one and a half weeks’ pay for each full year if you’re over 41. There are exceptions as to who is entitled to redundancy pay, including crown servants, members of the armed forces and if your employer offers to keep you on in a different role.
  • A notice period: This depends on your length of service in the company. The notice period is one week if you are employed between one month and two years, and one week for every year worked thereafter. For example, if you have been in the company for 10 years, you are legally entitled to 10 weeks’ notice. Notice periods cap at 12 weeks.
  • Consultation with your employer: This involves speaking about why you’re being made redundant and if there are any alternatives. If your employer is making 20 or more people redundant at the same time, then the consultation should take place between your employer and a representative (a trade union rep, for example).
  • Suitable alternative employment: Your employer might offer you the option to move into a different job in the company but this depends on the alternative job’s similarity to your current one, your skills and abilities related to the job, the terms of the job as well as pay, hours and location. If you unreasonably turn down an offer to suitable alternative employment, you could lose your right to statutory redundancy pay.
  • Time off to look for another job: To qualify for ‘reasonable’ time off for job hunting, you must have been employed in the company for a minimum of two years. No matter how much time you take off, your employer only has to pay you 40 per cent of one week’s pay.

You must be selected for redundancy in a fair and objective way. You can’t be selected because of your age, gender, religion or sexual orientation or if you’re pregnant or disabled. If you are, you can make a claim for unfair dismissal.

References for Employment

Your employer has no legal obligation to provide you with a reference unless there was a written agreement to do so or they’re in a regulated industry (eg: financial services). If they do give you a reference, it must be a fair and accurate reflection of you. If you’re given a reference that you feel is either inaccurate or misleading, you might be able take matters to court where your employer will have to back up their claims with examples of warning letters. You can’t be sacked for asking your current employer for a reference.

A reference can be as brief as simply outlining your job title, salary and dates of employment, or it can include details about your performance and if you were fired.

Prospective employers can only approach your current employer for a reference.

You can request a copy of the reference your employer has provided a prospective employer with. This request should be in writing, and it can be rejected if any exemptions apply.

Rest Breaks

You might be entitled to rest breaks during your working day as well as daily and weekly rest breaks. But, this does not apply to certain workers like members of the armed forces, for example, or people who have no set hours.

Your entitlement to rest breaks depends on your age and your working hours, as shown below:


Over 18

Under 18 (but over school leaving age)

Rest break at work

20 minutes if you work more than 6 hours

30 minutes if you work more than 4.5 hours

Daily rest break

11 consecutive hours in any 24-hour period

12 consecutive hours in any 24-hour period

Weekly rest break

One day off each week or two days off each fortnight

Two days off each week

For example:

Melanie is 25 years old and works as a cashier at her local supermarket, typically 8 hours a day. She is legally entitled to a 20-minute rest break during the working day and her employer must give her a minimum of one day off each week. She also has the right to a minimum of 11 hours’ rest between working days – this means that if she finishes work at 10pm, her employer can’t make her work again until 9am the following day.

Unless your contract specifically says otherwise, you do not have the right to get paid for rest breaks or take smoking breaks.

Your employer can tell you when you can take rest breaks during the working day. But, it will not count as a rest break if you are made to go back to work before your break is finished.

Compensatory Rest Breaks

Some workers are entitled to compensatory rest breaks. This happens when they have to work during a rest period and are allowed to take their break at a later time. Compensatory rest breaks are the same length of time as the break or part of the break that an eligible worker has missed.

Eligible workers include:

  • shift workers;
  • security guards;
  • people who work on oil rigs;
  • people who work in the rail industry and whose jobs are linked to ensuring that trains run on time; and
  • people who work in jobs that require round-the-clock staffing, like a hospital.


From 1 October 2011, employers can no longer issue a forced retirement notice to employees who turn 65 (implemented in 2006, this was known as Default Retirement Age). But, there are some exceptions – for example, you can be forced to retire if your job requires certain physical abilities or it has an age limit set by law.

You can keep working past your State Pension age (use the government’s simple calculator to work out your own, which is based on your gender and date of birth). Your State Pension age is the earliest age you can start receiving your State Pension.

If you continue working past your State Pension age, you do not have to continue paying National Insurance contributions. But, you may have to continue paying Income Tax, though this depends on the size of your total income.

The amount you’re entitled to depends on your National Insurance record and when you reach State Pension age.


Shared Parental Leave and Pay

You may be entitled to shared parental leave and pay if you or your partner is having a baby or adopting a child.

Shared Parental Leave (SPL)

To qualify for Shared Parental Leave, you must share responsibility for child with one of the following:

  • your husband, wife, civil partner or joint adopter;
  • the child’s other parent; or
  • your partner (if they live with you and the child).

You must also have been with the same employer for at least 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the due date or by the date you have been matched with your adopted child, and you must stay with your employer while you take SPL. Additionally, you or your partner must be eligible for Maternity Leave or Pay, Adoption Pay or Leave, or Maternity Allowance.

Meanwhile, in the 66 weeks before the baby is due or you are matched with your adopted child, your partner must:

  • have been in employment for a minimum of 26 weeks (they do not need to be in a row); and
  • have earned a minimum total of £390 in 13 of the 66 weeks (they do not need to be in a row).

You can only start SPL once the child has been born or placed for adoption.

If you are eligible and you or your partner end maternity or adoption leave early, you will be able to take the rest of the 52 weeks of leave as SPL.

Shared Parental Pay (ShPP)

The ShPP rate is £139.58 a week or 90 per cent of your average weekly earnings, whichever is lower.

To qualify, you must be an employee and one of the following must apply:

  • you are eligible for Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) or Statutory Adoption Pay (SAP);
  • you are eligible for Statutory Paternity Pay (SPP) and your partner is eligible for SMP, SAP or Maternity Allowance.

You can also qualify for ShPP if you are a worker and are eligible for SMP or SPP.

To start ShPP, the mother or the person getting adoption pay must give their employer binding notice of the date they plan to end any maternity or adoption pay. If you get Maternity Allowance, then you must provide your notice to Jobcentre Plus instead.

If you are eligible, you will be able to take the rest of the 39 weeks of maternity or adoption pay as ShPP.

To get SPL and ShPP, you must provide your employer with a minimum of 8 weeks’ notice of your leave dates.

Sick Leave

Your employer can ask you to fill in a form when you return to work to confirm that you’ve been off sick for up to seven days. This is called self-certification.

Generally speaking, you only have to provide your employer with a fit note (also known as a sick note) from your doctor or GP if you have missed work for more than seven days. Your employer cannot make you get one before this.

This note will either say that you are ‘not fit for work’ or that you ‘may be fit for work’. If it says that you ‘may be fit for work’, your doctor can recommend the type of work you can do (shorter hours or different tasks, for example) but if your employer cannot make the changes the doctor recommends, then you should be treated as ‘not fit for work’. While your employer can take a copy of this note, you must always keep the original.

Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)

If you take time off work due to illness, you might be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay. SSP is paid at £88.45 per week up to a maximum of 28 weeks. To qualify for SSP, you must:

  • be an employee;
  • earn an average of at least £112 per week (before tax);
  • be sick for a minimum of four consecutive days (including non-working days); and
  • tell your employer that you are sick before their deadline (if they don’t have one, then within seven days).

If you’re not eligible for SSP (you received the maximum of SSP or you are getting Statutory Maternity Pay, for example) or your SSP has ended, you may be able to apply for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). This can be done by filling in form SSP1 that your employer will provide you with:

  • within seven days of you going off sick, if you don’t qualify for SSP;
  • within seven days of your SSP ending; or
  • on or before the beginning of the 23rd week, if your SSP is expected to end before your sickness does.

Your employer may choose to offer you a more generous scheme than that what is statutorily available to you. This is called contractual sick pay. Check your employment contract or written terms of employment for details.

Long-Term Sickness

If you’re off sick for more than four weeks, you may be considered long-term sick. If a chronic illness is behind your long-term sickness, your employer could have specific responsibilities under the Disability Discrimination Act which covers a broad range of mental or physical illnesses and disabilities, including cancer, HIV and multiple sclerosis.

In most cases, your employer is legally required to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to accommodate your needs to help you return to work. This can include changing the hours you work, giving you time off for hospital appointments and providing you with special equipment.

In extreme cases when everything possible has been done to accommodate you but you are still unable to do your job due to your illness, your employer can legally dismiss you. You can take your case to an employment tribunal if you think you’ve been unfairly dismissed.

Sunday Working

Generally speaking, you can’t be made to work on a Sunday unless you have agreed to do so in your contract or terms of employment. Moreover, your employer does not have to pay you a higher rate for working on a Sunday than what you are normally paid. If they chose to, it should be specified to you in writing.

There are special rules for Sunday working for retail and betting shop workers. Retail workers don’t have to work on a Sunday if they started their employment on or before 26 August 1994 (2 January 1995 for betting shop workers) and are still with the same employer. In Northern Ireland, these dates are 4 December 1997 and 26 February 2004, respectively.

You can opt out of Sunday working if you like (unless, of course, it is the only day you have been hired to work), even if you agreed to work on Sundays in your contract. But, you will need to provide your employer with a minimum of three months’ notice while continuing to work on Sundays during that time if your employer wants you to.


Time Off for Dependants

The law gives you the right to ‘reasonable’ time off in order to deal with an emergency that involves a dependant (this could be a spouse, partner, child, grandchild, parent or someone else who depends on you for care). There is no set amount as to how much time off you’re entitled to as it depends on your particular situation, and it is up to your employer if they want to pay you for taking time off to look after dependants.

What Is a Valid Emergency?

You could take time off when a dependant is involved in any of the following emergencies:

  • they’ve fallen ill (this includes mental and physical illnesses) or their condition has worsened;
  • they’ve been mugged or otherwise injured or assaulted;
  • they unexpectedly go into labour and rely on you to take them to hospital;
  • a childminder is unable to show up;
  • a nursery home or nursery unexpectedly closes; and
  • your child is involved in a school fight, injured on a school trip or suspended from school.

You can’t take time off for dependants if you knew about a situation before – for example, your child has a medical appointment.

Time Off for Medical Appointments

Your employer is not legally required to give you paid time off for medical appointments. They may require you to take annual leave, take the time unpaid or make up the time later.

But, if you have a disability which requires you to make regular visits to your doctor or GP, your employer does have a legal obligation to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to accommodate you. This can include changing the hours you work and giving you paid or unpaid time off for appointments.

Time Off for Study or Training

You can request time off work for study or training if:

  • you are classed as an employee;
  • you have worked for the same employer for a minimum of 26 consecutive weeks;
  • at least 250 people work in the organisation; and
  • the training will make you better at your job.

There are exceptions as to who can take time off. These are:

  • agency workers;
  • members of the armed forces;
  • young people who already have the right to paid time off work for study or training;
  • persons of compulsory school age (school age, in Scotland); and
  • persons aged between 16 and 18 who are expected to take part in education or training.

Time off is usually unpaid. But, your employer may agree to pay it – check your terms of employment for details.

You should follow the rules your employer has set out when requesting time off. If there aren’t any, you can send a written request ‘under Section 63D of the Employment Rights Act of 1996’ with:

  • the date;
  • the study or training subject;
  • the study or training provider;
  • where and when the study or training will take place;
  • why you think this particular study or training will help you do your job better;
  • the name of the qualification you will get, if any; and
  • if you’ve made a previous request.

Note that you may only make one request per year and that your employer does not have to consider your request if it does not contain all of the abovementioned information.

Tips at Work

If you receive tips at work, you have to pay Income Tax on them and sometimes also Social Insurance contributions. This depends on how the money is paid to you:

  • If cash tips are paid directly to you: You only have to pay Income Tax on any tips that a customer gives you personally or leaves on the table for you. You must declare these earnings to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), which will provide your employer with a tax code to collect any due tax through Pay As Your Earn (PAYE) before you receive your wages.
  • If tips are collected by a troncmaster and then paid to you: When tips are pooled together and then shared between all staff, this is called a tronc, and the person who handles this is called a troncmaster (who must be someone other than your employer, typically a member of staff). The tronc must be registered with HMRC, and the troncmaster is responsible for making sure that Income Tax is paid through PAYE.
  • If tips are collected by your employer and then paid to you: If your employer collects tips included in card or cheque payments, or cash tips, and then gives them to you as part of your pay packet, they are required by HMRC to deduct Tax Income and Social Insurance contributions from your wages.

Key Points

  • The UK Government has a Code of Best Practice on service charges, tips, gratuities and cover charges, which provides information on how employers should handle them. It is voluntary, meaning they do not legally have to follow it.
  • It is illegal for employers to use service charges, tips, gratuities and cover charges to make up National Minimum Wage pay. You must get the NMW in base pay; tips can only be added to your pay packet.

Travel Disruption

From time to time, things like public transport cancellations or strikes and severe weather conditions (eg: storms and snow) can affect your ability to get to work on time, if at all. Your rights about travel disruption might be outlined in your employment contract or written terms of employment, so it’s a good idea to check this first for details.

Key Points

  • You are not automatically entitled to pay if you are unable to get to work due to travel disruption (unless your employer provides the transport or the travel itself is considered working time). Your employer can ask you to take paid holiday if they give you the correct notice, which is at least double the length of the time they want you to take in annual leave. Your contract or terms of employment may set a different notice period, and this will usually apply.
  • You could, alternatively, ask your employer about the opportunity to work from home, travel to the nearest office or make up the time at a later date. Unless your contract clearly states so, your employer cannot insist on this.
  • If your employer decides to close the workplace due to snow, for example, then you have a legal right to full pay for the duration of the closure. They cannot make a deduction from your pay without your consent, unless you’ve agreed otherwise in your contract, which could, for example, include a clause that allows your employer to lay you off without pay.


Useful Links

The following links may prove useful when looking for further information about your basic rights at work.



If you are aware of any serious wrongdoing, risk or malpractice in the workplace and you report it to your employer, a regulator, customers, the police or media, this is known as whistleblowing.

As a whistleblower, you’re protected by law. This means that you cannot be treated unfairly or lose your job because you blew the whistle about health and safety risks, fraud, corruption or a cover-up. All workers are protected by law for blowing the whistle – this includes employees (office workers, police officers, etc), agency workers, trainees and members of a LLP (Limited Liability Partnership).

You can raise a concern about something at any time. It does not have to be happening now; it can have happened in the past or you may have good faith to believe that it will happen in the near future.

Personal grievances do not count as whistleblowing unless the particular case is in the public interest. This includes workplace bullying and discrimination.

Working Hours

According to UK law, which implements the EU Working Time Directive, employees cannot work more than a maximum of 48 hours a week. But, they can choose to opt out (see below) if they want to work more than the normal 48-hour workweek. Workers under the age of 18 cannot work more than 8 hours a day or 40 hours a week.

But there are some exceptions, and some jobs may require you to work more than 48 hours a week. These include jobs in security and surveillance; in the armed forces, emergency services or police; as a domestic servant in a private household; and where 24-hour staffing is required.

Your average working hours are calculated over a ‘reference period’ which is normally 17 weeks. This means that you can work more than 48 hours one week so long as the average over 17 weeks is less than 48 hours a week. Reference periods are different for some professions – for example:

  • Security guards, caretakers, trainee doctors, airport staff, civil protection officers, etc have a reference period of 26 weeks.
  • Workers in the offshore industry have a standard reference period of 52 weeks.

If you have more than one job, your average working hours should not exceed 48 hours a week. You will either have to reduce your hours to the 48-hour limit or sign an opt-out agreement.

A working week generally includes:

  • job-related training;
  • paid and unpaid overtime you’re asked to do;
  • time spent working abroad;
  • time spent working on call at the workplace; and
  • working lunches (eg: business lunches).

It does not include things like:

  • paid or unpaid holiday;
  • unpaid overtime you volunteered for;
  • time spent on call away from the workplace;
  • travelling to and from work; and
  • lunch or smoking breaks.

Opting Out

If you agree to opt out of the 48-hour working week, you must do so in writing. You can cancel an opt-out agreement whenever you want, even if it’s part of your contract, with at least 7 days’ notice (though your employer may ask you to give up to 3 months’ notice). A typical opt-out agreement looks like this:

I, John Smith, agree that I may work more than an average of 48 hours a week. If I change my mind, I will give my employer 30 days’ notice to end this agreement.


Signed: JS


Date: 10 February 2017

Note that not everyone can opt out of the 48-hour working week. This includes:

  • young workers under the age of 18 (they cannot work more than 40 hours a week);
  • airline staff;
  • workers on ships or boats; and
  • security guards on vehicles carrying high-value goods.

Working Temperature

The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 mentions that employers must maintain a ‘reasonable’ indoor workplace temperature. This should be at least 16°C (13°C if a lot of the work involved is physical), unless other laws require otherwise. Although there is no required maximum temperature, employers should prevent workplaces being uncomfortably hot – this, of course, depends on the nature of the workplace. For example, high temperatures in workplaces such as glass works and foundries are to be expected.

The Management of Health and Safety Regulations 1999 requires that all employers perform a risk assessment to identify any potential risks that pose a threat to the health and safety of their employees, and this includes workplace temperature. If any risks are identified, your employer is legally required to make reasonable adjustments where and if possible.

Workplace Disputes

Problems will often arise in the workplace. These could involve discrimination (i.e., being treated unfairly because of a disability or your age), work relations (i.e., not getting on with someone you work with) or health and safety concerns (i.e., work-related stress).

It is generally advised to try to resolve the issue with your employer informally first. This means discussing the issue with them and working together to find a solution that is acceptable to both parties, as a more formal approach may make relationships difficult and may lead to a negative outcome.

If an informal approach does not work and a solution is not possible, then you should raise the issue formally.

Raising a Grievance

Raising a grievance is when you raise a formal complaint to your employer which may be resolved by procedures set out in your employment contract, for example, or the company handbook.

This should be done in writing, meaning you will have to write a letter to your line manager explaining the details of your grievance. Once a formal grievance has been made, your employer should arrange a meeting with you to discuss your concerns. After the meeting’s completion, your employer should write to you with their decision and explain what they intend to do to resolve the grievance.

Disciplinary Action

Your employer may have concerns about your work, conduct or absence, and should discuss any issues with you informally first before taking any disciplinary action against you. But, they can take immediate action in more serious or repetitive cases, and this can include dismissal.

A thorough investigation should be carried out to gather and establish all the facts of the case, and your employer should explain the issue to you in writing. Your employer should put their disciplinary procedures in writing (in your contract or the company handbook, for example), which should include a disciplinary hearing where you will be able to tell your side of the story.

Your employer has the right to suspend you from work during the time leading up to a disciplinary meeting in more serious cases, normally with pay. But, if your contract says so, they might be able to suspend you without pay. You are entitled to your full employment rights while on suspension.


You have the right to appeal against any formal decision made in a grievance or disciplinary hearing. You should follow your employer’s appeals procedure, which includes the time limit within which you can make your appeal and who you should submit it to. Your appeal must be in writing.

Right to Be Accompanied

You have the statutory right to be accompanied to a grievance or discipline meeting, as well as any appeals, by a colleague or trade union representative. You might also be able to be accompanied to such meetings by a family member or a Citizens Advice Bureau worker, though you will have to check the terms and conditions of your employment to confirm that this is allowed.

Employment Tribunals

If you were unable to solve a problem between you and an employer or a potential employer, you may be able to make a claim to an employment tribunal. You usually have to make your claim within three months of your employment ending or the problem arising.

You’ll first need to notify the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) of your intention to make a claim to the tribunal. You’ll be offered the opportunity to try to resolve the issue without going to court with their Early Conciliation service. If you’re unable to reach a mutual agreement with your employer, (ACAS) will send you an Early Conciliation Certificate which you should use to make your claim to the tribunal.

At the tribunal, you and your employer will be asked to present your cases and answer questions, before a decision is made. If you win the case, your employer will be ordered to do certain things (ie: pay you compensation or improve your working conditions). If you lose the case, you can ask the tribunal to reconsider their decision by writing to the tribunal office within 14 days and providing a good reason why they should reconsider their decision.

Note that you’ll need to pay a fee to make a claim to an employment tribunal. This fee depends on the particular case.But, the fee is waived if:

  • you are only claiming for unpaid wages or redundancy pay, and
  • your employer has gone bankrupt.

Written Statement of Terms and Conditions of Employment

A written statement is a legally binding agreement between you and your employer. While it is not a contract of employment, it is evidence of the contract of employment.

Your employer must provide you with a written statement of terms and conditions of employment within two months of starting work. If they do not, you could make a claim at an employment tribunal where you could be awarded compensation of two to four weeks of pay.

This statement should outline some of the main particulars of your employment in writing. The following information should be included in a single document, known as the ‘principle statement’:

  • the employer’s name;
  • the employee’s name, job title or job description and start date;
  • if continuous employment, the date the period started;
  • the job’s location and whether the employee is expected to relocate;
  • how much and how often the employee will be paid (weekly, monthly, etc);
  • the employee’s working hours;
  • the employee’s holiday entitlement; and
  • the details of any collective agreement directly affecting the employee’s employment conditions.

Your employer may provide you with additional documents (an employee handbook, for example) for more information pertaining to things like sick leave, disciplinary procedures and pension schemes.

Disclaimer: Every effort was made to ensure that the information contained in this article is accurate and current. This information is not legal advice and should not be treated as such. Please consult a qualified solicitor to obtain independent professional advice for your own particular situation.