Know Your Rights At Work

In the UK, workers’ employment rights are well-protected. In fact, workers in the UK enjoy better protected rights than most workers around the world.

But as with any rights, workers’ rights are only any good if they are known and understood. That’s why it’s important to familiarise yourself with the statutory rights all employees are entitled to and better protect yourself from would-be immoral employers.

N.B. Throughout this article, the term ‘employee’ refers to an individual who is employed by a company i.e. is not self-employed, a subcontractor or works freelance.

Basic Rights

Contracts

First and foremost, every employee in the UK is entitled to receive a written statement of their employment particulars within two months of starting work. This document outlines basic details, such as job title/description, salary, hours of work, etc., as well as the main terms and conditions of your employment.

Such written statements may also include information relating to disciplinary processes, pension schemes and grievance procedures. If yours does not, you should ask your employer where you can find such information.

National Minimum Wage

The National Minimum Wage in the UK (at time of writing) is £8.21 an hour (before tax) for people age 25 or over, £7.70 for people age 21-24, £6.15 for people age 18-20 and £4.35 for people age 16-17.

If you’re not sure if you are getting the National Minimum Wage, this online calculator* on the Gov.UK website can help you check.

While the rules aren’t clear cut, you should get paid for:

Being ‘on call’
Time travelling
Time training

Rest breaks

While some jobs mean you do not have an automatic legal right to rest breaks, most employees are entitled to them throughout the day - specifically, a daily rest break of at least 20 minutes if your working day exceeds 6 hours and at least one full day off every working week (7 days). You are also entitled to 11 hours continuous rest between each working day.

Typically, most employees also get a lunch break, which you may or may not get paid for.

Maximum hours

Regardless of what your contract says, your employer cannot make you work more than an average of 48 hours in a week.

Sometimes, an employer may ask you to sign an agreement stating that you are happy to work more than 48 hours a week, but even if you choose to sign this you can cancel it at any time by giving 7 days’ notice in writing.

Holidays

If you work full-time (5 or more days a week), you are entitled to 28 days’ paid holiday a year. The fewer days you work a week, the fewer holiday you’re entitled to e.g. if you work 2 days a week, you are entitled to 11.2 days paid holiday a year.

If you work irregular days, calculating your holiday entitlement can be tricky. This online holiday entitlement calculator** on the Gov.UK website can help.

Whether you have to work on bank holidays is up to your employer. If your place of work is normally closed on bank holidays, your employer can make you take them as part of your holiday entitlement. Again, your contract of employment should outline this.

Finally, while you are entitled to your paid holiday entitlement, when you take days off is at your employer’s discretion. For example, if there are already people off on the days you request, your employer may ask you to choose different dates.

Sick Pay

Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)*** is something that you are entitled to providing:

You have commenced employment with your employer
Are sick for at least 4 full days in a row (inc. non-working days)
Earn at least £118 (on average) per week (before tax)
Do not fall under one of the ineligible categories
You follow your employer’s rules for getting sick pay

Right now, you can get £94.25 per week SSP if you’re too ill to work. It is paid by your employer for up to 28 weeks. If your employer has a sick pay scheme, you may get more than the statutory amount.

Parental Rights

Regardless of how long you’ve been with your employer, how much you get paid or how many hours you work, you are entitled to take up to a year (52 weeks) of maternity leave. This can be made up of:

Ordinary Maternity Leave - first 26 weeks
Additional Maternity Leave - last 26 weeks

Tell your employer in writing that you want to take maternity leave at least 15 weeks prior to your baby being born. Your employer may ask for a medical certificate (MAT B1 form). You can ask for one from your doctor or midwife after you are 20 weeks pregnant.

Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) is paid for up to 39 weeks and you should get:

90% of your average weekly earnings (before tax) for the first 6 weeks
£148.68 or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) for the next 33 weeks

Tax and National Insurance will be deducted as usual.

In the same way, women are entitled to maternity leave when they have a baby, men can take paternity leave, but only for one or two weeks and it must be taken in one go. Furthermore, a week is defined as the number of days you normally work per week e.g. a week is only two days if you only work Thursdays and Fridays.

The statutory weekly rate of Paternity Pay is £148.68, or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower). Tax and National Insurance will be deducted as usual.

If you adopt a child or have a child through a surrogacy agreement, you may be entitled to Statutory Adoption Leave and Statutory Adoption Pay.

Statutory Adoption Leave is 52 weeks and is made up of:

26 weeks of Ordinary Adoption Leave
26 weeks of Additional Adoption Leave

It is important to note that only one person in a couple can take adoption leave. The other partner could be eligible for paternity leave instead though.

Statutory Adoption Pay is paid for up to 39 weeks and you should get:

90% of your average weekly earnings for the first 6 weeks
£148.68 or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) for the next 33 weeks

Tax and National Insurance will be deducted as usual.

Flexible Working

If you have been working for an employer for at least 26 weeks (6 months), you can submit a request for flexible working hours (N.B. you can only submit one flexible working request per year).

Flexible working may include flexitime, job sharing, staggering hours or working shifts.

While employers do not have to grant your request by law, they must be able to show they have given it serious consideration and provide you with a compelling reason if they decline it.

Any flexible working request must be made in writing and while your new working arrangement will be permanent, you are within your rights to ask for a trial period first.

* https://www.gov.uk/am-i-getting-minimum-wage
** https://www.gov.uk/calculate-your-holiday-entitlement
*** https://www.gov.uk/statutory-sick-pay

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