When looking at employment law and employment rights in the UK, there is a general misconception that these relate solely to employees. The whole purpose of employment law/rights is so that both employees and employers know where they stand.
Before the in-depth employment laws we have today; there were far too many loopholes and areas of confusion. However, many employees and employers are still not fully aware of their rights and obligations.
Basic employment rights
Uncover your basic of employment rights in the UK including your employments status, employment contracts, and more.
Trying to balance protecting workers rights and allowing employers to dismiss those who do not fulfil their role is not easy.
What is employment law?
In essence, employment law dictates the relationship between employers and employees. Employment law also involves third parties such as trade unions, tribunals, and other similar bodies. This is where it starts to get complicated.
One set of employment laws would dictate employer and employee rights and obligations in a perfect world. As you probably guessed, this is not the case. There is an array of employment legislation covering numerous different areas of the employment market. These include:-
- Employment Rights Act 1996
- National Minimum Wage Act 1998
- Employment Relations Act 1999
- The Maternity and Parental Leave Etc. Regulations 1999
- Part-Time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2000
- Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006
- The Equality Act 2010
- Agency Workers Regulations 2010
This list is by no means exclusive, but it does give you an idea of the raft of laws that cover employee/employer relationships.
There are also additional pieces of legislation connected with the working environment and employment law. These include the:-
- Bribery Act 2010
- Data Protection Act 2018
- Working Time Regulations 1998
Once you start digging into the array of acts of Parliament covering employment law, you will soon begin to realise there is a considerable depth. There are not many actions or dangers which aren’t covered.
You can find all of the acts and regulations referred to on this page on the official home of UK legislation.
Do we need so many employment laws?
When looking at employment law in detail, you will notice that many older acts of Parliament have been expanded and updated. It is a challenging task to keep up with all of the different trends emerging in the workplace and how they should impact employees and employers. The whole concept of employment law and equal opportunities is to create a level playing field for both employees and employers.
Historically, there have been times when employers have misinterpreted or ignored employment regulations. Consequently, the UK government has been forced over the years to introduce new legislation and update existing Acts of Parliament. It is crucial that everybody knows where they stand, their rights and obligations, and actions available if they feel they have been mistreated.
What specific topics does employment law cover?
In some cases, it is a question of which topics employment law does not cover. Society and the employment market are constantly changing with new trends and challenges emerging regularly. Again, this list is not exclusive, but it does give you an idea of some of the topics covered by UK employment law:-
- Age discrimination
- Bullying/harassment in the workplace
- Disabled employees
- Discrimination based on race, religion, sexuality or gender
- Dismissal process
- Employee grievances
- Employment contracts
- Equal pay
- Health and safety in the workplace
- Holiday pay
- Minimum wage
- Parental leave
- Personal injury claims
- Working conditions
- Working hours
Even though this list is not exclusive, it is fair to say it does cover an in-depth range of topics that might emerge in the workplace. So, the answer to the question, what specific issues do employment laws cover, is most of them.
Different types of employees in the UK
There is a general misconception that employee rights are the same across the workforce, no matter what your employment status may be. In essence, there are three main types of employment status in the UK which are recognised by employment law:-
This is defined as someone that has an employment contract with an employer. Some of the more common rights protected by legislation include:-
- Confirmation of job rights and responsibilities which may or may not include an employment contract
- Holiday, sickness and parental leave rights
- Right to redundancy claim for unfair dismissal after two years of service
Employees have the most rights and obligations when it comes to employment law.
A worker will have a contract for services, which is different from an employment contract. While similar laws to employees often protect a worker, they can differ. Some of the more common protections include:-
- Written terms and outline conditions of employment
- Right to national minimum wage
- Right to be paid holidays
- Receipt of payslips
- Legislation covering unlawful dismissal
There can be significant differences between the rights and obligations of employees and workers. It is, therefore, vital that you confirm your status before starting work.
Self-employment takes in company owners, freelancers and contractors who are treated as outside third parties. There is a general misconception that the self-employed are not covered by workplace health and safety regulations when working for a third party. This is not true. Some of the more fundamental rights include:-
- The provision of a safe working environment
- Protection against discrimination
There are some circumstances where those who are self-employed should be recognised as workers. This tends to be where a third party uses self-employed individuals on a quasi-exclusive basis.
What defines employment status?
There are some significant areas when it comes to identifying your employment status, but on the main, they relate to 3 specific issues:-
- Type of employment
- Method of payment
- Tax payments
Your employer must identify your employment status because this will impact your rights going forward. Therefore, all employers are obligated to provide you with a basic summary that defines your position, role, etc. This brings us to the subject of employment contracts.
Do employment contracts protect you?
Sometimes referred to as contracts of employment, an employment contract is simply an agreement between an employee and employer. It should clearly define the role of the employee, remuneration and hours of work. Unfortunately, there is a general misconception that all employers are legally obliged to provide employment contracts to their employees.
While most employers will provide an employment contract within two months of starting work, this is not a legal obligation. However, all employers are legally obliged to provide employees with essential information detailing the likes of:-
- Hours of work
- Location of work
- Method of payment
- Holiday entitlement
- Employer name
- Employer details
There is one further caveat to this list. In line with your employment status, you are still covered by all of the relevant employment laws. Some employers may go above and beyond their obligations, perhaps with holiday entitlement, but they cannot reduce your legislative protection. It may surprise many to learn that some employers do go above and beyond their statutory minimum obligations.
Legally, verbal agreements are treated in the same manner as formal written agreements – they have legal protection. This may involve issues such as holiday pay, overtime, bonuses and many more subjects. Even if the terms of a verbal agreement are not formally inserted into an employment contract, this does not affect your legal protection. However, it is probably sensible to request written confirmation to support any verbal agreements.
We have seen many scenarios where verbal agreements have been made with the express consent of all parties. Where these agreements are broken, it can be challenging to prove to an Employment Tribunal that they ever existed. However, we live in a world of electronic communication, the perfect medium to confirm and clarify verbal agreements at a later date.
Employment law regarding health and safety in the workplace
When it comes to health and safety in the workplace, it is The Health and Safety at Work Etc. Act 1974, which is the main piece of legislation.
This act places a duty of care upon employers to protect their employees’ health, safety, and well-being. If infringements of this act have impacted you, this can form the basis for a personal injury claim.
When it comes to health and safety in the workplace, there are three main elements taken into consideration:-
Right to know
Every employer is obliged to inform their employees of any risks or hazards in the workplace. Part of this obligation stipulates that initial and ongoing training must be given to all staff members regarding health and safety in the workplace.
Right to participate
While employers have a legal obligation to make employees aware of workplace hazards and dangers, employees also have a right to participate in identifying any risks. This makes perfect sense when you consider that employees are undertaking tasks in the workplace daily.
Right to refuse unsafe work
No matter how much pressure is placed on an employee by their employer, they have the legal right to refuse to work in an unsafe environment or carry out dangerous procedures. Any infringement of this legal right could result in a whole range of different legal actions and compensation.
Employee rights regarding flexible working
Over the years, we have seen many experts predicting millions of people will work from home and the office environment will be no more. In reality, many of these game-changing predictions have failed to materialise thus far. However, one element of the workplace which has grown is flexible working.
This now prompts the question, what are your rights when it comes to flexible working and your employer’s obligations? Before we look at your rights regarding flexible working, it is worth reminding ourselves of the particular activities this covers:-
- Job sharing
- Working from home
- Part-time hours
- Compressing working hours
- Annualised hours
- Phased retirement
- Staggered hours
You can legally apply for flexible working if the same employer has continuously employed you for 26 weeks or more. However, while your employer is legally obliged to consider your request, they are not legally obliged to grant it.
Flexible working rights
Uncover your flexible working rights including planning your application, making a flexible working request, and more.
Consideration of your flexible working request
Looking at this from a legal point of view, your employer must:-
- Respond within three months
- Consider the request on its merits
- Avoid discriminatory action
- Present the reasoning behind their decision
If you believe that your request for flexible working hours has been unfairly considered, or you think you have been the subject of discrimination, you can take this further. The first course of action would be:-
- An appeal to your employer
- Employment Tribunal
The majority of issues are resolved with a direct appeal to your employer, perhaps pointing out errors in their consideration process or mistakes in the information used. Some will make it to arbitration and even an employment tribunal, but very few will make it to court.
Are part-time workers treated differently under employment laws?
One of our main aims is to correct several common misconceptions, one of which surrounds the rights of part-time workers. Under the Part-Time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations, employers are legally obliged to treat part-time workers the same as their full-time counterparts. This covers issues such as:-
- Pro-rata salaries
- Pro-rata holiday entitlement
- Promotion opportunities
- Hourly pay rates
There will be differences when comparing and contrasting the rights of full-time employees, workers and the self-employed. However, when it comes to full-time and part-time employees, there are protections in place.
Additional employment rights
In reality, there will be many differences in employment contracts across different companies and different sectors. Of course, they will all need to comply with the most basic employment rights/protections, but there may be further issues to consider. Therefore, we will now look at some additional employment rights to which you are entitled, even if they are not explicitly mentioned in your contract.
Fixed-term contracts are commonplace where an employer is forced to bring someone in to cover maternity leave or other types of absence. Employment protection ensures that those on fixed-term contracts should be treated no less favourably than their full-time employee counterparts. The use of fixed-term contracts is also limited to four years unless otherwise agreed between employer and employee.
After four years, a contract will become permanent in the eyes of the law with the enhanced protections this brings. In the past, many employers would simply take employees on with fixed-term contracts that were constantly renewed. The idea was to reduce redundancy costs and strip many employees of their fundamental employment rights. This loophole has now been closed!
Wages and bonuses
Many people see wages and bonuses (and other standard payments) as separate entities. In reality, the term wages covers all types of employment payments, including fees, bonuses, commissions, holiday pay and any other payments defined in your employment contract.
In years gone by, some companies introduced a whole range of deductions that reduced their net costs while reducing an employee’s income. Consequently, employers can only deduct monies from your wages which are permitted under employment laws. There will be other issues, such as pension contributions, that are agreed upon between both parties. However, when looking at your monthly wage slip, you can challenge any strange deductions.
It is also important to note that all employers are legally obliged to abide by the National Minimum Wage legislation. However, they can agree to increase your salary with additional payments, but you cannot earn less than the minimum wage for your age.
Working Time Regulations
When the UK was part of the EU, all member states were obliged to introduce the Working Time Regulations. Even though the UK has left the EU, the Working Time Regulations have since been enshrined in UK law. These regulations stipulate:-
Maximum working week
The standard maximum working week is currently 48 hours unless the employee has specifically opted out of the legislation. In addition, the ultimate working week is reduced for those aged between 16 and 18; they cannot work more than 40 hours a week.
Some companies will offer additional holiday entitlement to attract and retain a high standard of employee. However, the minimum holiday entitlement for a full-time worker is set at a minimum of 5.6 weeks per year (pro-rata for part-time employees).
Every employee is entitled to at least one full day off per week, as well as 20-minute rest breaks when working longer than six hours. Under the law, you’re not allowed to work more than eight hours on night shift over a 24 hour period.
There are always some exceptions to the rule. However, the above regulations are the standard whether an employer or an employee. Therefore, as a minimum, any exception should be agreed upon between the employer and the employee.
Different types of dismissal
Under UK employment laws, an employer is not allowed to dismiss an employee without good reason. Some of the more common reasons include:-
- Poor conduct
- Poor timekeeping
- Incapable of doing the job
- Current role will cease to exist
- Contravention of UK laws
- Personality clash with clients/colleagues
If you believe that you have been mistreated or the subject of discrimination, you can challenge your dismissal. This is often referred to as wrongful dismissal. However, you may also come across the term constructive dismissal, which is similar. In essence, your employer has deliberately made your situation untenable, forcing your resignation.
If you were the victim of unfair/constructive dismissal, you might be able to claim significant compensation from your employer.
To ensure employers and employees know where they stand, employers are legally obliged to have a disciplinary procedure in place. This will define how various breaches in discipline are handled and ultimately what can lead to dismissal. These include issues such as:-
- Verbal warnings
- Written warnings
- Final warnings
- Fair hearings
If your employer has followed the disciplinary process step-by-step and they have reasonable grounds for dismissal, you may have minimal protection. However, where you believe that you have been mistreated or discriminated against, you can appeal and take your complaint further.
Many people see grievance procedures and whistleblowing regulations as the same; this is not true. Grievance procedures generally involve an employee complaining about:-
- The working environment
- Working relationships
- Working conditions
It is important to note that employers are legally obliged to consider any grievances, but you cannot be made redundant for making a grievance. That is not to say that your employer will agree with your grievance, but they have to give it due consideration.
There are bona fide reasons why companies may look to make one or more members of their workforce redundant. This could include:-
- A change in working practices
- Reduced business demand
- Cost-saving programme
- Removal of your particular employment role
The process is well-defined, and where there are multiple redundancies, employers are legally obliged to enter into consultation with employees. However, this leads to another potential issue covered by employment law. If you believe that the criteria used to identify those to be made redundant is unfair or discriminatory, you can challenge it.
The Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 is the primary legislation covering whistleblowers. This protects all whistleblowers from dismissal or victimisation as a consequence of their actions. In theory, it sounds perfect but in practice, it can be challenging to pinpoint actions by your employer to effectively “force you out”. However, if you feel that you have been forced out, then you can challenge the decision as either constructive or unfair dismissal. You have rights!
There is no doubt that the subject of employment law in the UK appears complex and complicated. However, when you separate the various regulations, protections, and obligations, you begin to see a different picture. This is because these regulations are constantly updated to account for new working practices and new trends in both business and the workplace. Not an easy job.