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Employment rights [test, hidden]

Your legal rights at work 2017-18 [hidden]

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Employment rights factcardThis outlines your rights at work as of 1 January 2017. It only covers the minimum legal requirements – in most cases your contract of employment will offer better terms, so the rights in your contract will apply.

Your rights cannot be weaker than the legal minima. Always check the contractual terms that apply to you – these may be recorded in:

  • your written contract
  • a statement of terms and conditions
  • a staff handbook/intranet
  • your letter of appointment, or
  • company rules.

This brief guide cannot cover all circumstances, so always seek advice from your local Prospect representative. You can download the guide as a PDF which includes a table setting our your statutory rights and the qualifying periods for those rights. There is a separate guide covering Northern Ireland.


  • Employment status
  • Who is covered
  • Written statement of terms
  • Pay
  • Pensions
  • Working time
  • Equal pay
  • Discrimination
  • Family rights
  • Part-time workers
  • Fixed-term contracts
  • Flexible working
  • Young workers
  • Health and safety
  • Trade union rights
  • Right to be accompanied
  • Time off for public duties
  • Time off for learning
  • Detriment
  • Transfers of undertakings
  • Notice of termination
  • Unfair dismissal
  • Special cases of unfair dismissal
  • Compensation
  • Redundancy
  • Insolvency of employer
  • Employment tribunals
  • Advice from Prospect

Employment status

All the rights in this factcard apply to ‘employees’ – people who work under a contract of service. Some also apply to a broader group of ‘workers’, such as zero hours contract workers, consultants or freelancers. Workers have legal rights in respect of:

  • discrimination on grounds of a protected characteristic
  • working time
  • right to be accompanied by a trade union representative at disciplinary or grievance hearings
  • part-time working
  • national minimum wage.

Only the genuinely self-employed, working for a customer or client, are excluded from workers’ rights. Seek advice if you are unsure whether you are an employee.

See Prospect’s Members’ Guide to Atypical Workers for more on employment status.

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Who is covered

The rights outlined apply to members in England, Wales and Scotland. See our separate factcard for members in Northern Ireland. There are differences for the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, so check first with your Prospect rep. The full range of rights applies to Crown employees, except for notice of termination and statutory redundancy pay.

Some rights apply to all employees. Others depend on length of service. All employees have the same statutory rights – regardless of whether they work full or part time, or are employed on a casual, fixed-term or indefinite contract.

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Written statement of terms

All employees are entitled to receive a written statement of their terms and conditions of employment within two months of starting work. This must include the following details or state where they can be found:

  • names of employer and employee
  • date employment began
  • date of continuous employment
  • scale or rate of pay or how it is calculated
  • intervals of pay (monthly, weekly etc)
  • hours of work
  • holiday entitlement, holiday pay
  • sickness arrangements, sick pay
  • pension entitlement
  • length of notice of termination required by employer and employee
  • job title or brief description of the work
  • place of work and any mobility obligations
  • collective agreements which affect terms and conditions of employment
  • disciplinary and grievance procedures
  • termination date if the contract is for a fixed term
  • details if the employee is to work outside the UK.


All employees are entitled to:

  • itemised pay statements
  • statutory sick pay (with some exceptions)
  • the national minimum wage (from April 2017) £7.50 per hour for those aged 25 and over, £7.05 for 21-24 year olds, £5.60 for 18-20 year olds and £4.05 for under 18 year olds, rates change each year). There is also an apprentice rate of £3.50
  • not to have unauthorised deductions from pay.


All employers must provide minimum pension provisions under the auto-enrolment provisions.

Working time

With some exceptions, most workers have the right to:

  • a daily rest period of 11 hours
  • a weekly rest period of 24 hours
  • a 20-minute break if working more than 6 hours a day
  • work no more than an average 48 hours a week
  • work no more than an average 8 hours a night
  • 5.6 weeks’ paid annual leave a year (including public holidays).

Equal pay

Women and men employed on work rated as equivalent, like work or work of equal value, are entitled to equal pay unless the employer has a material reason for the difference in pay.

Pay secrecy clauses are unlawful, so any term in a contract which forbids employees from discussing their pay for the purpose of finding out if there is discrimination will be unenforceable.


All workers have the right not to be discriminated against on the grounds of the following protected characteristics:

  • gender     
  • race
  • disability 
  • sexual orientation
  • age  
  • religion or belief
  • marriage & civil partnership 
  • gender reassignment
  • pregnancy and maternity

as regards recruitment, terms and conditions, benefits, promotion, training, transfer, dismissal or harassment.

Legislation also protects workers from being victimised for alleging a breach of discrimination laws, taking proceedings or supporting someone else who has done so.

People with a disability are entitled to have reasonable adjustments made to the job or working environment to enable them to remain in, or to take up, employment.

It is unlawful for an employer to ask questions about a job applicant’s health or disability before offering them a job (although there are some exceptions).

Family rights

All women are entitled to:

  • 52 weeks’ maternity leave
  • statutory maternity pay
  • paid time off work to attend ante-natal sessions.

Adoptive parents have similar entitlements.

Men and women are entitled to:

  • shared parental leave and pay (the mother’s partner can share the statutory leave and pay)
  • time off to care for dependants in exceptional circumstances
  • return to the same or (in some cases) similar job after maternity or parental leave
  • 18 weeks’ unpaid parental leave for children aged up to 18 but only after one year’s continuous employment
  • 2 weeks’ paternity/partner leave and statutory paternity pay.

Part-time workers

Part-time workers have the right to equal treatment with comparable full-time workers unless the difference can be ‘objectively justified’.

Equal rights apply to terms and conditions on a pro rata basis where appropriate, eg pay, training, sick pay, pensions, leave and promotion. In some cases, workers can use discrimination laws to change to part-time work to care for dependants or because of a disability.

Fixed-term contracts

Employees on a fixed-term contract are entitled to equal treatment with a comparable permanent employee, unless the employer can objectively justify the difference in treatment. Where an employee has been continuously employed on a fixed-term contract for four years or more, any subsequent renewal of the contract will be deemed to be for an indefinite term, unless the employer can objectively justify a further fixed term.

Flexible working

All employees have the right to request flexible working to change their hours, working pattern or to work from home.

Young workers

Most employment rights apply to all workers, but there are differences for workers under 18 who are entitled to a daily rest period of 12 hours, a weekly rest of 48 hours and a 30-minute break if working more than 4.5 hours. Employees who have not achieved set standards in education are also entitled to reasonable paid time off for relevant training.

Health and safety

All employers are covered by the Health and Safety at Work etc Act which sets minimum standards of health and safety at work. Employees have the right:

  • not to be dismissed or suffer any other detriment for being a safety rep or for raising health and safety concerns or taking certain actions
  • to be paid if suspended from work on medical grounds under regulations covering: control of lead, ionising radiation, control of substances hazardous to health – only after one month’s continuous employment.

Trade union rights

All employees have the right not to suffer a detriment or to be dismissed on the grounds of their trade union membership or activities. Where the union is recognised, members and reps are entitled to reasonable time off for trade union duties and activities. Employees also have the right not to be dismissed for taking official industrial action within 12 weeks of the start of the action.

Trade unions have the right to be:

  • recognised by an employer where the majority of workers in a bargaining unit are members, or where there has been a successful ballot
  • consulted over redundancies and transfers of undertakings.

There is a legal duty on employers with more than 50 employees to inform and consult the workforce on a range of issues.

Right to be accompanied

All employers must allow workers to be accompanied by a trade union rep at a disciplinary hearing or certain grievance hearings. This applies whether or not the employer recognises a union.

Time off for public duties

Employees who carry out public duties are entitled to reasonable time off work for undertaking those duties, eg JPs, members of certain public bodies including a local authority, statutory tribunal, health authority or education body, such as a board of school governors.

Time off for learning

Employees have the right to request unpaid time off to undertake study or learning. This only applies to employers with 250 or more workers.


All employees have the right not to be subjected to any detriment or less favourable treatment for asserting rights in respect of:

  • working time
  • parental leave
  • maternity, paternity or adoption
  • part-time working
  • national minimum wage
  • public interest disclosure (whistleblowing)
  • activity connected to a claim for union recognition
  • requesting flexible working
  • being a pension fund trustee or employee rep.

Transfers of undertakings

The Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations (TUPE) offer protection if there is a transfer of undertakings, eg contracting out, privatisation, company sale or takeover. The main rights are:

  • your employment transfers to the new employer
  • not to be dismissed for a reason connected to a transfer – only after two years’ employment
  • not to have your terms and conditions of employment worsened because of the transfer (unless the employer can show an economic, technical or organisational reason entailing change in the workforce).

Notice of termination

Employers must give notice to employees as follows:

  • after one month of employment – one week
  • after two years of employment – two weeks
  • one week’s notice for each additional year of employment, up to a maximum of 12 weeks.

Contracts of employment may provide for longer periods. Employees must give employers one week’s notice.

Unfair dismissal

After two years’ service, employees have the right not to be unfairly dismissed. If dismissed, they have the right to a written statement of the reasons for dismissal. The employee should follow disciplinary and appeal procedures. Failure to do so can result in compensation being reduced.

Special cases of unfair dismissal

Dismissal on any of the grounds listed below – regardless of length of service – is automatically unfair. Employees can bring a claim to an employment tribunal if they are dismissed because of:

  • pregnancy or childbirth
  • health and safety reasons (in certain circumstances)
  • asserting a statutory right like working time, maternity or parental leave, minimum wage
  • trade union membership or activities
  • taking lawful industrial action (in certain circumstances)
  • making a protected disclosure in the public interest
  • being an employee rep or pension fund trustee
  • campaigning for union recognition.


Maximum compensation for most cases of unfair dismissal is £14,370 plus one year’s gross pay (from 2016). Average awards are much less, just £12,000 in 2014/15. Additional compensation may be awarded where an employer refuses reinstatement ordered by the tribunal or where the dismissal was on the grounds of a protected characteristic, health and safety, or for making a protected disclosure.

For employees, there is a special procedure (‘interim relief’) for immediate reinstatement or continuation of contract where a dismissal is for any of the following:

  • trade union membership or activities
  • for being a health and safety rep, pension fund trustee, or an employee rep for the purposes of working time, redundancy or transfer consultations, or
  • for making a protected disclosure.


Employees are entitled to a statutory redundancy payment if they are made redundant after two years or more continuous employment. They are also entitled to a reasonable period of paid time off to look for work or to arrange training once notice of redundancy is given.

The maximum statutory redundancy payment is £14,370 (April 2016) depending on age and length of service.

Redundancy may also be an unfair dismissal if the employee was unfairly selected, not consulted in advance, or the employer failed to consider alternative employment for the employee.

Breach of contract

All employees are entitled to:

  • bring an employment tribunal claim for breach of contract, which arises or is outstanding at termination of employment, up to a limit of £25,000
  • bring a breach of contract claim to the county court or sheriff’s court. But seek advice on whether it is best to take the case through a tribunal or a court.

Insolvency of employer

If their employer becomes insolvent, employees can claim from the National Insurance Fund if they are owed:

  • statutory redundancy pay
  • arrears of pay of up to eight weeks
  • pay for the statutory notice period
  • up to six weeks’ holiday pay
  • a basic award for unfair dismissal.

A week’s pay is limited to £479 (from April 2016)

Employment tribunals

There are strict time limits for making a claim to an employment tribunal. For most of the statutory rights in this factcard, the claim must be started within three months of the incident or dismissal occurring (see table). The first stage in most cases is to present a claim for Early Conciliation to ACAS before making the claim to the tribunal. This must be done within the three-month time limit and this will ‘stop the clock’ for presenting the tribunal claim. The rules are complicated so always seek advice as soon as possible.

The employee should always follow the grievance or disciplinary appeal procedure. If they do not, compensation may be reduced by up to 25 per cent.

There are fees of up to £1,200 to bring a tribunal claim. If Prospect supports the claim, we pay the fees.

Advice from Prospect

Prospect can advise members on a range of issues concerning their rights at work. The union may also represent members at internal grievance or disciplinary hearings and employment tribunals. Workplace and other legal assistance is offered at the discretion of the union, and is decided on the facts and merits of each case. For terms and conditions see Prospect’s guide to legal advice. This factcard can only offer a brief summary of employment rights. Check Prospect’s website for more information and various members’ guides on specific rights.