There are many rights that are guaranteed by the law for workers in the UK, and workers also have certain responsibilities. This section offers a brief overview of some of the key rights and explains which categories of workers can claim these rights.
There are a few categories of workers who are not entitled to some rights - these include agency workers, casual workers, the self-employed, trainees (interns, students on work placement) and domestic workers. For example, the right to paid annual leave does not apply to those who are self-employed; the restrictions on maximum working hours do not apply to those who work as domestic servants in a private household; the national minimum wage does not apply to family members of the employer living in the employer’s home.
If there are any issues affecting you or someone you know, you should contact your trade union or the nearest Citizens’ Advice Bureau if you are not a member of a trade union.
Rights at Work
Workers are entitled to a legally enforceable minimum wage which is set as an hourly rate for all workers over the age of 16 and/or the school leaving age. The National Minimum Wage rate changes on every April and the latest rates are available on the government website: The national minimum wage rates (employment section).
National minimum wage rates (2019-2020):
|Year||21 and Over||18 - 20||Under 18||Apprentice*|
*This rate is for apprentices under 19 or those in their first year. Those who are 19 or over and past their first year of apprenticeship get the national minimum wage rate.
Young people and children below the age of 16 who work have different employment rights from adult workers. The number of hours people are allowed to work and the types of jobs they can do depends on their age. Generally, those under 13 can only get a job in special circumstances. Young people aged between 13 and 16 can only do light work that cannot affect their health and safety or interfere with their education.
Working hours permitted by UK law:
|Age||Term Time Weekday||Term Time|
|School Holiday Weekday||School Holiday Weekend||Restrictions|
|14||2 Hours||5 hours on Saturdays;2 hours on Sundays||5 hours a day||5 hours on Saturday; 2 hours on Sundays||Cannot work before 7am or after 7 pm*; cannot work in factories or on a building site|
|15-16||2 hours||8 hours on Saturday; 2 hours on Sunday||8 hours a day||8 hours a day||Cannot work before 7 am or after 7pm*|
|16-17 (over school leaving age)||8 hours a day||8 hours a day||8 hours a day||8 hours a day||Cannot work between 10.00 pm to 6.00 am; and no more than 8 hours per day or 40 hours per week, cannot opt out of the 40-hour week; but some exceptions exist.° Need to take 2 continuous days off every week.|
|Over 18 ||No daily limit (so long as total does not exceed weekly limit)||No daily limit (so long as total does not exceed weekly limit)||No daily limit (so long as total does not exceed weekly limit)||No daily limit (so long as total does not exceed weekly limit)||48 hours a week, but can opt out to a maximum of 60 hours a week, but average calculated over a 3-month period; restrictions for some occupations like haulage drivers etc.|
* There are some exceptions. For eg, you are allowed to work at night if you are an actor and a scene needs to be filmed at night to ‘maintain continuity of production’, and no adult would be able to do your work. The full list of exceptions are available here: http://www.nidirect.gov.uk/working-hours-and-young-workers
Those working 35 hours a week are full time workers. They are entitled to have 28 days paid leave a year, in addition to bank holidays. Some employers may offer more leave entitlement as part of the employment contract.
Women workers who are having a baby have the right to 52 weeks of Maternity Leave, of which the first two weeks after the baby is born is ‘compulsory’ maternity leave. Depending on their length of service and a minimum average earnings, workers are entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) set at 90% of full pay for the first six weeks and the remainder is a fixed rate that varies every year. There are also parallel 'adoption leave’ entitlements for workers who adopt children. Fathers are now also entitled to 2 weeks statutory paternity leave.
Workers who earn a certain minimum amount (£107 before tax per week in 2012), are entitled to statutory sick pay (of £85.85 per week in 2012) for up to 28 weeks, but only after their medical condition has been signed off by a doctor. Many workers get sick leave entitlements as part of their employment contracts.
By law, workers who have been with their employer for one month or more must give their employer one week’s notice if they want to leave their job - the same applies if the employer wants to terminate their employment. Most employment contracts require a longer notice period. Workers’ entitlements like sick leave continue during the notice period.
If an employer wishes to dismiss a worker, s/he must be able to show that there was a good reason for the dismissal and that s/he acted reasonably. A dismissal is usually regarded as fair if it is to do with: capability or qualifications for the job; misconduct; redundancy; because a legal requirement or restriction prohibits the employment from being continued; or some other substantial reason which justifies the dismissal.
If a worker has been dismissed unfairly, then s/he can take the employer to court for unfair dismissal. The qualifying period for making such a claim is one years’ service with the employer (two years if the employment started on or after 6 April 2012).
Some dismissals are automatically unfair. You do not need two years’ service with your employer to claim if you were dismissed because of pregnancy; for taking action over a health and safety issue; for enforcing a statutory right such as equal pay; for being a trade union member or taking part in trade union activities; or for ‘blowing the whistle’ on a matter of public concern at work.
The legislation on health and safety is complex and different laws cover the various categories of employers. On the whole, employers must assess any risks to workers’ health and safety and take steps to reduce them. This applies to both paid workers and volunteers.
Workers have the right to join a trade union of their choice. An employer or employment agency isn’t allowed to victimise workers for membership of a trade union by selecting such workers for redundancy nor is it allowed to treat a worker unfavourably (such as denying them a promotion) for joining a trade union.
If you are an employee you also have responsibilities at work. Some of these responsibilities have a statutory basis, such as the requirement to follow the health and safety guidelines, and treating other workers with respect, which may be covered under the law on harassment or discrimination. Some of the remaining requirements have their basis in the employment contract, such as your working hours or the job description. As an employee you are expected to:
- Follow health and safety rules and guidelines
- Understand your job description
- Follow instructions
- Work to the best of your ability
- Be honest
- Be punctual
- Not waste time
- Follow company procedures
- Present yourself neatly and cleanly
- Treat others with respect