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Overview of legal rights and responsibilities

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Both you and your employee have rights and responsibilities under the law. You may find this section of particular interest if you are relatively new to employing people.

Please note that the information below is not intended to be a precise statement of law nor is every aspect dealt with. If you are in doubt about any matter, you are advised to take advice from a Human Resources specialist or employment lawyer.

General obligations in the employment relationship

Regardless of what is contained a written employment contract, employees and employers are expected to abide by certain general obligations.

The employee must:

  • render faithful service to the employer and not compete with the employer
  • obey lawful and reasonable orders (consistent with his or her contract)
  • exercise reasonable care and skill
  • provide a personal service
  • maintain confidentiality
  • maintain the relationship of trust and confidence by behaving reasonable towards the employer.

The employer must:

  • pay agreed wages
  • provide work
  • provide a safe workplace
  • pay out of pocket expenses
  • provide reasonable notice
  • maintain the relationship of trust and confidence by behaving reasonably towards the employee.

Legal rights of employees

Equality

All employees have the right:

  • not to be discriminated against or to suffer a detriment on grounds of the nine ‘protected characteristics’ under the Equality Act 2010. These are:
    • age
    • disability
    • gender reassignment,
    • marriage and civil partnership,
    • pregnancy and maternity
    • race
    • religion and belief
    • sex
    • sexual orientation

    See Equality and Diversity.              

Leave (paid and unpaid)

Employees have the right to:

  • relevant parental leave (maternity, paternity, adoption, shared parental leave and unpaid parental leave). This is subject to eligibility conditions. See ‘Parental leave.’
  • time off for dependants – all employees have the right to take a reasonable period of unpaid time off work to deal with an emergency involving a dependant and not to be dismissed or victimised for doing so. See ‘Compassionate and emergency/dependants leave’.
  • time off for other reasons – there are a range of other reasons for which time off may be given, including:
    • for public duties (jury service, magistrate, etc)
    • to look for work if declared redundant with at least two years' service
    • for trade union activities, duties and training (including acting as a Union Learning Representative) where a trade union is recognised for collective bargaining
    • for undertaking duties as an employee representative, or as a candidate for election or for purposes of statutory consultation over redundancies or business transfers
    • for carrying out functions as a safety representative (trade union or non-trade union) or as a candidate for election to be a representative of employees who are not in groups covered by trade union safety representatives
    • for performing the functions of a pension fund trustee or undergoing relevant training
    • to request time off for study and training in certain circumstances
    • for medical suspension if continued employment would endanger health (eg in the case of pregnancy).
  • annual leave and working time limits – under the Working Time Regulations 1998, workers are entitled to a minimum of 28 days paid leave per year (pro-rata for part time staff); to rest periods and in-work rest breaks; and to health assessments in certain circumstances. The regulations also limit the average working week to 48 hours and limit night working to an average of eight hours in a 24-hour period. Special rules apply to young persons. See ‘working time.’

Pay

All employees have the right to:

  • minimum pay – under the National Minimum Wage Act 1998, workers are entitled to be paid at least the level of the National Living Wage or National Minimum Wage.
  • not have unlawful deductions from pay – employers must not deduct from an employee's pay unless the deduction is required or authorised by law or by a relevant provision of the employee's contract; or if the worker has previously given written agreement or consent for the deduction to be made.
  • an itemised pay statement, stating payments made and deductions.
  • parental payments, where eligible. These may include maternity, paternity, adoption and shared parental pay. See ‘parental leave.
  • redundancy pay – employees with at least two years' service are entitled to redundancy payments; the amount depends on the individual's pay, age and service. The entitlement is regardless of whether the employee has been engaged on a permanent or a fixed term contract. See ‘restructuring and redundancy.’
  • statutory sick pay (SSP) – paid by the employer (provided the employee meets the qualifying conditions) for up to 26 weeks.

Contract/conditions

All employees have the right to:

  • a written statement – of the main terms of the contract. See The written statement and contract of employment.
  • not be unfairly dismissed – employees have the right to complain to an Employment Tribunal within three months (normally) of their dismissal, provided they have at least two years of continuous service. However, there are several circumstances where no continuous service is required; these are known as ‘automatically unfair dismissals’. For example, if an employee is dismissed: for trade union activities; for seeking to assert a statutory right; for taking action on health and safety grounds; because of pregnancy and childbirth; or because of taking or seeking to take parental leave. There is also no length of service requirement to make a discrimination claim.                
  • to apply for flexible working – all employees with 26 weeks’ service or more have the right to apply to their employer to work flexibly. See Flexible working.
  • to notice of termination of employment – most employees are entitled to receive from their employers at least one week's notice after one month's service, two weeks' after two years and an additional week's notice for each complete year of employment up to 12 weeks for 12 years' service. See Leaving employment.
  • to a safe system of work – when an employer hires someone, the employer becomes legally responsible for their health and safety at work. See Health and safety
  • to trade union membership – employees have a number of rights, including the right:
    • to belong or not to belong to a trade union
    • to time off to take part in trade union activities/duties
    • not to be refused employment because of membership or non-membership of a trade union.
  • to protected employment rights on transfer – employees have the right to be transferred automatically, on the same terms without loss of service-related employment rights, from one employer to another when the business or part of the business in which the employee is then employed is transferred to a new employer or there is a service provision change eg outsourcing or in-sourcing. (‘TUPE’ transfer). See Transfer of Undertakings (TUPE).
  • to written reasons for dismissal on request – this applies in many circumstances. See Dismissal: your rights at GOV.UK.
  • to be accompanied at disciplinary and grievance hearings – workers are entitled to be accompanied by a fellow worker or a trade union official of their choice at disciplinary and grievance hearings. See disciplinary matters and grievances.
  • to protection when making disclosures of wrongdoing to the employer – the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 protects employees from being subjected to a detriment eg dismissal/disciplinary action who have a reasonable belief that they are disclosing information relating to criminal offences, miscarriages of justice, danger to health and safety or the environment or breaches of legal obligations to their employer. See Whistleblowing.

Legal obligations of employers

As well as the obligations to provide all the above rights to employees, employers must:

Volunteers

Volunteers should not be given documentation that is drafted for employees. See our volunteering section for further information on engaging volunteers appropriately.

Further resources

Page last edited Jun 28, 2018

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