Employees: Are you aware of your rights?

Surprisingly, very few employees are aware of all their rights!

With there being such tremendous competition for many jobs, too often we focus all our energy on not only trying our very best to land our dream job but also on keeping it. The latter, however, can create unnecessary problems, often with their roots buried in fear of not wanting to do anything to upset our employer, especially if we are on a period of ‘probation’. 

However, even before we are offered a job with a company, there are employment rules that must be obeyed in the actual employment process. 

Employees: Are you aware of your rights?

It works both ways, with the example of employers not employing discriminatory practices in their choice of employee, while the employee should not falsify references or their CV.

Many employers take employees’ rights very, very seriously. When it comes to submitting a job application, to avoid any chance of being accused of being discriminatory even in the interview process, applicants are often asked to submit a CV or resumé without a photograph. 

Besides, some businesses require you to complete a job application form and on that form, while it will ask you for your full surname, often they will ask for your initials as opposed to the Christian name, thus avoiding any suspicion of sex discrimination.

Also, there are specific questions an employer is allowed to ask you in your job interview, but there are also many questions that they are not allowed to ask you. In the latter case, an employer may not make enquiries that are classed as being of a personal or sensitive nature, especially if you are a woman. 

Questions about whether or not you have children or would want to have (more) children are strictly forbidden. Why? Because an employer could be perceived as being biased towards hiring a male employee who would not present the same challenges as a female employee, such as requiring maternity leave.  

Employee rights are applicable from day one

When it comes to your rights as an employee, the first thing you must realise is that those rights are also applicable from the moment you start working for your new employer. It does not matter if you are on a trial period or not as any contract of employment does not solely define your rights as an employee if you are given one. 

You do not have the right to be given a contract of employment

Legally, an employer does not have to provide an employee with a written contract of employment. It should be noted that this does not then leave the employer free to treat you unfairly; they cannot. Even without a contract, you are entitled to protection under general employment law. This includes having a safe working environment, being entitled to regular and appropriate breaks, paid holiday, maximum weekly working hours, and a minimum rate of pay.

When you work without a written contract, there is still what is called mutual trust and confidence between employer and employee, and it is when this trust is broken that contract disputes can arise. 

Of course, if you work for an employer over a long period, then what you do becomes ‘custom and practice’, and this also forms an integral part of any unwritten contract of employment.

You should also be aware that while you may not have been given a written contract, the fact your employer has offered you work creates a ‘verbal contract’ which is also subject to employment law. 

Additionally, within two months of starting work, you should be provided with a written job description that clearly outlines your duties and what is expected of you, this is provided in what is referred to as a ‘statement of specific terms’, and although it is not part of any written contract, it can be used where there is a dispute which relates to any verbal contract.

There is no room for discrimination of any type.

Many of you may be well aware of sex discrimination, insofar as an employer cannot deliberately choose to employ a man over a woman. However, discrimination goes beyond sex. Employers may not discriminate against you in terms of any physical disability (unless the nature of the work is such that only a non-disabled person could do it), your race, your age, your religion or your sexual orientation, etc. 

Salary entitlement

As a full-time employee, you are legally entitled to a payslip along with your agreed wage. That payslip should clearly show any deductions that have been made to your gross wage (the agreed sum before any deductions). While your employer must make the necessary deductions for tax and National Insurance contributions, there may be additional deductions such as the cost of workwear or in-house pension scheme; your employer cannot make any deductions for non-legal reasons.

If you are employed on a ‘casual’ or freelance basis, your employer may choose to pay you the gross agreed wage, and it will be your responsibility to declare that revenue and make the necessary payments to Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs at the end of each financial year.

All employees are entitled to a minimum hourly payment which is based on your age, currently standing at £6.45 if you are aged between 18 and 20. It is £8.20 between 21 and 24; and £8.72 if you are aged over 25.

Health & safety

While specific jobs pay a higher wage owing to an inherent danger or higher than average risk of harm, such as a deep-sea diver or skyscraper window cleaner, you are still entitled to expect that all appropriate health & safety measurements have been taken. 

Your employer does not have the right to say they are paying you extra as compensation for bypassing health & safety rules and regulations. Even in a ‘normal’ working environment, your employer has a legal responsibility towards the health and safety of their workforce, such as providing adequate training for any machinery used, a safe and clean working environment, provision of drinking water and requiring you only to work the legal maximum of hours, etc.

Employees: Are you aware of your rights?

Holidays, time off and sick leave

Full-time employees are entitled to 5.6 weeks of paid leave per annum, while part-time employees are entitled to the same amount, on a pro-rata basis. Additionally, employees are entitled to take unpaid leave for a few specific reasons, such as to attend a training course, attend a trade union meeting, or if there is a family crisis.

Sick leave is different from a holiday or time off. You are entitled to take up to seven days off sick without a doctor’s certificate according to gov.uk. Depending on the nature of your contract and terms of employment, you may still be entitled to pay for those days. 

You may also be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) after four full and continuous days off sick, but you will need to discuss this with your employer.

For women, maternity leave is a legal right, and every pregnant woman in full-time or part-time employment is entitled to 52 weeks of maternity leave, which is divided into two halves: ordinary maternity leave and additional maternity leave. Additionally, you are entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) for 39 weeks.

Women are entitled to paid time off for attending antenatal clinics or medical appointments related to their pregnancy. The partner of a pregnant woman is entitled to between one and two weeks ‘paternity’ leave on the birth of their child. Where adoption is concerned, one person (of a couple if appropriate) is entitled to 26 weeks paid leave and six months unpaid leave.

After working for an employer for a minimum of 26 weeks, if you then have a child, you are entitled to request a more flexible working schedule.

Getting laid off

Even with a written contract, this is no security where employment is concerned concerning either being made redundant or receiving short-time work. This reflects today’s working environment, where many businesses operate in a world where there is fluctuating demand. If you are placed on restricted working hours, your payment will be reduced on a pro-rata basis, or your employer may wish to renegotiate your contract.

During an economic downturn, employees taking a pay cut rather than being laid off is not unheard of. However, an employer cannot reduce your wages without your prior agreement.

Your rights as a full-time or part-time employee

Many people erroneously believe that if you work part-time, you do not have the same rights as a full-time employee. This is incorrect. The only thing that differs for part-time employees is the amount of holiday entitlement and income; both provided on a pro-rata basis. Other than that, all other elements of employment law are equally applicable.

Dismissal

For most businesses, there is a strict employee dismissal policy that is based on a combination of verbal and written warnings for inappropriate behaviour and actions, as well as instant dismissal of severe offences.

Whether you are an employer or employee, if you find yourself in a situation involving summary dismissal, or you want further advice or guidance on any employment matters, then we are here to help.

Contact one of our employment lawyers today to receive the guidance, and assurance you are looking for.

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