Rights at work
As we spend so much of our time at work, it's important that we know our employment rights.
What is my employment status?
Your rights at work depend on your employment status, for example, whether you are defined as a worker, an employee, or self-employed. We explain the difference below.
You’re considered an employee when you:
- work under a contract of employment, which agrees terms such as pay, annual leave, and working hours.
- have to carry out this work personally and obey the employer’s lawful instructions.
Some rights require a minimum length of continuous employment before you can qualify for them. Your employment contract may state how long this qualification period is.
Your contract may also include terms and conditions that are more generous than the ones that your employer has to provide by law. However, if they provide less than the basic legal rights, this is unlawful. A contract doesn’t have to be written for you to have rights – if there is no piece of paper, what was agreed verbally will apply.
You’re self-employed if you:
- run your own business and take responsibility for its success or failure
- are responsible for paying your own tax and national insurance
- normally provide the materials, tools or equipment you need to do the work.
You can be both employed and self-employed, if you work for an employer during the day and run your own business in your free time.
Employment law doesn’t cover someone who is self-employed. However, there are still protections for your health and safety, and in some cases against discrimination at work.
You are likely to be a casual worker if most of these apply:
- you occasionally work for a specific business
- the business doesn’t have to offer you work and you don’t have to accept it - you only work when you want to
- your contract with the business uses terms like ‘casual’, ‘freelance’, ‘as required’ or something similar
- you had to agree with the business’s terms and conditions to get work - either verbally or in writing
- you are under the supervision or control of a manager or director
- you can’t send someone else to do your work
- the business deducts tax and National Insurance contributions from your wages
- the business provides materials, tools or equipment you need to do the work.
Your rights as a casual worker will depend if you are viewed by law as an employee, a worker, or self-employed, and this will depend on your individual circumstances.
You will be defined as a worker when:
- you have a contract or other arrangement to do work or services personally for a reward (the contract doesn’t have to be written)
- your reward is for money or a benefit in kind, e.g. the promise of a contract or future work
- you have a limited right to send someone else to do the work (subcontract)
- you have to turn up for work even if you don’t want to
- your employer has to have work for you to do as long as the contract or arrangement lasts
Usually the category of worker will also include agency workers. An agency worker is supplied by a work agency to an employer to carry out work for them. The work is normally for a temporary period. Agency workers have specific rights from the first day at work.
- If you are still unsure which applies to you, contact ACAS (the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service)
What am I entitled to at work?
Your employment rights will depend on whether you are classed as a worker, an employee or self-employed. For example, someone who is classed as an employee has additional employment rights and responsibilities that don’t apply to those who are defined as workers.
Overview of your basic rights at work
All workers and employees are entitled to:
- the National Minimum Wage
- protection against unlawful deductions from wages
- the statutory minimum level of paid holiday – 28 days paid leave for full-time workers (this can include bank holidays)
- the legal minimum length of rest breaks – a minimum of 20 minutes uninterrupted if someone works over six hours a day
- not work more than 48 hours on average per week, unless they choose to opt out of this right
- protection against unlawful discrimination
- protection for ‘whistleblowing’ - reporting wrongdoing in the workplace
- not be treated less favourably if they work part-time
If you are an agency worker, you have these rights. However, your rights can change depending on the type of contract that you sign and how long you have worked for the agency.
Statutory Sick Pay
Once you have been ill for more than four days, you are entitled to SSP for up to 28 weeks, provided you earn above a certain amount per week. In reality, most employers will pay more than they are legally required to, but SSP is an important safeguard. There is no upper age limit for payment of Statutory Sick Pay.
After 28 weeks, SSP will end and you will need to claim either Employment and Support Allowance (if you are under State Pension age) or your State Pension.
Am I entitled to flexible working?
All employees, except agency workers, have the legal right to request flexible working. You have this right if you have worked for your employer continuously for 26 weeks.
Flexible working means you have more choice over when and where you work than a standard contract. So rather than working Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, you might choose a flexible work option. Flexible working isn’t just for parents and carers. It could suit a lot of people in very different circumstances, for example, those with:
- caring responsibilities
- health issues
- a desire to take up new hobbies, volunteer or learn something new
- travel plans
- the desire to spend more time with a partner.
If you are thinking about retiring in the next few years, starting to work flexibly could also be a good bridge into retirement. Stopping work suddenly can cause a shock to the system, and some people find that they get bored or even depressed after retirement. Flexible working could help you to adjust to that part of your life in a more gradual way.
Further information can be found on the GOV.UK website
Can I be forced to retire?
From 1 October 2011, employers are no longer allowed to issue forced retirement notices to their employees. This is the end for the Default Retirement Age (DRA).
What should I do next?
- Contact ACAS (the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service), which runs a free helpline that can answer your questions about employment rights and employment status.