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Protecting Your Rights in the Workplace

By: Louise Smith, barrister - Updated: 22 Oct 2014 | comments*Discuss
Workers Employees Rights Pay

The rights enjoyed by an individual in the workplace will largely depend on whether that individual is an employee or self-employed. Employees enjoy greater rights, with casual and agency workers having less protection. However, everyone is entitled to some fundamental rights in the workplace. Additional rights may arise out of a particular contract of employment.

Part-time employees have the same rights as full-time workers and must not be treated less favourably because they work fewer hours.

The article below chiefly relates to the rights enjoyed by employees.

Terms and Conditions Of Employment

All employees are entitled to minimum conditions of employment. In many cases these will be set out in a written contract of employment entered into by the employer and the employee. Employees who do not have a written contract are entitled to a written statement setting out the terms and conditions of their employment. This should be provided within two months of the job starting.

As well as ensuring that the employee’s statutory rights are being observed, written terms of employment ensure that both sides of the working relationship know what they can expect from each other.


Most people over the age of 16 working in the UK are entitled to receive at least the national minimum wage. This applies to agency and casual workers and those on short-term contracts, as well as to full-time employees.

The applicable minimum wage depends on the age of the worker. From October 2008 the following rates apply:

  • £5.93 - workers aged 21 and over
  • £4.92 - 18-20 year olds rate
  • £3.64 - 16-17 year old workers above school leaving age but under 18

Some exceptions do exist. Children under school-leaving age, the self-employed and people in the armed forces are amongst those who are not entitled to the national minimum wage. Different rates also apply to agricultural workers.

Working Hours And Holidays

Most workers cannot be forced to work more than 48 hours a week. However, there are some types of work to which this rule does not apply. In addition, those over the age of 18 may choose to opt out of this maximum. To do so they must confirm in writing that they agree to work more than 48 hours. An opt-out agreement may be cancelled by an employee upon giving an agreed amount of notice to their employer.

Most workers are currently entitled to a minimum 4.8 weeks of paid holiday each year. From 1 April 2009 this will increase to 5.6 weeks. Part-time workers have the same entitlement but this will be recalculated on a pro rata basis to be proportionate to the number of hours or days they work.

Some employees or workers may also have the right to paid rest-breaks during the working day.

Discrimination And Harassment At Work

If one worker is treated less favourably than another, this may be an example of discrimination or harassment. Some types of discrimination are unlawful and may give rise to a legal claim. These may include discrimination due to gender, sexual preference, marital status, race, nationality, religious beliefs, age or disability.

Employers have a duty to ensure that their employees or workers are not subjected to bullying in the workplace. Someone who is forced to leave their job because of bullying may have a claim against their employer for constructive dismissal. Bullying itself does not usually provide grounds to take a case to an employment tribunal. But other types of claim, such as one based on discrimination, may include allegations of bullying.

Other Work-Related Rights

Other rights which workers may have include the right to work in a healthy and safe workplace, maternity leave, time off work for jury service and the right to join a trade union.

Resolving Disputes

If employment rights are not being observed, a worker should start by using their employer’s internal complaints or grievance procedure. If this does not prove satisfactory, some workers may find that they have the grounds to go to an employment tribunal or to pursue a legal claim.

There are many organisations which can provide advice or help on work-related issues. Depending on the circumstances the following may be able to help:

  • The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service(ACAS);
  • The Citizens Advice Bureau;
  • Trade unions or professional organisations;
  • The Health and Safety Executive or the Environmental Health Department;
  • Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs investigate complaints regarding a failure to pay the national minimum wage.
Anyone considering making a legal claim or taking a case to an employment tribunal should seek advice as soon as they believe that their rights have been infringed.

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@sly. Your employer will have conducted a risk assessment before implementing the policy. If you feel the policy is not 'reasonable' then you should make a formal representation to the department responsible.
ProtectingYourself - 24-Oct-14 @ 1:48 PM
My workplace is trying to enforce a hygeine policy that states we are not allowed to wear our rings at work. only one band with no stones allowed. this is a hospital and in my department we have NO CONTACT with patients or any of the nursing staff. We are in an administrative part of the building. I have been here over a year and This policy is being put in place to minimize infection and bacteria. Hand washing policy is understandable but I think they are going too far by saying we could lose our jobs if we wear our rings at work. I sit at a desk all day typing reports and find it EXTREMELY offensive that they could threaten to fire me if i have my rings on my fingers, rings which I may add have been there for years and are washed daily in the shower, along with myself. Our shoes, jackets and lunch bags carry more germs that a ring on our fingers and I am having a difficult time understanding how they can tell me I HAVE to take them off to come to work. They are also telling us we are not allowed to grow our nails. Please advise to as to any course of action i can take with this. There was no voting on this decision. And they are wasting taxpayer dollars hiring people to walk around and audit hospital personnel to see who is washing their hands and who is not.We are professionals and know the consequences of not washing and we do wash our hands frequently on a daily basis. I think its VERY WrONG to make us take our rings off.
sly - 22-Oct-14 @ 9:50 PM
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