Whatever your employment status, whether you’re an employee, worker or freelance/contractor, you have rights at work that are protected by law. Below is a comprehensive summary of what you’re entitled to, plus links to articles that cover each in detail.
The Employment Law implications of Brexit from 1st January 2021 will heavily alter existing employment laws and employment case law after 1st January 2021, and what employment laws are currently derived from the EU and the employment laws that are solely domestic.
Before we get going. don't forget to check out our guide to your employment status, and our guide to motivating staff.
The main legal rights of an employee
As an employee, you have the following rights:
- To the rights of workers (below)
- To a written statement explaining your main terms and conditions - this must be provided within two months of beginning the employment (ideally within one month of starting). From 6th April 2020 you must be provided with a written statement by or on Day 1 of your employment (this will apply to workers as well). A contract of employment is an agreement between you and your employer. There’s always a contract between you and your employer, even if you don’t have anything in writing, because you’ve agreed to work for your employer in return for them paying you. The terms of an employment contract set out what you and your employer have agreed and what you can expect of each other; your rights and duties. For more details about ‘express’ and ‘implied’ terms of a contract, and details about the duty of trust and confidence that exists within a contract, see our “Trust and Confidence” guide
- Maternity Leave/Pay, Adoption Leave/Pay, Paternity Leave/Pay and Shared Parental Leave/Pay.
- Antenatal leave for mothers, fathers/partners
- Parental leave
- Time off to care for dependants
- From 2022 (tbc) the right to take a week’s unpaid Carer’s Leave. You can read more details here.
- From April 2020 the right to Parental Bereavement Leave
- The right to apply to work flexibly
- The right to request time off to undertake study or training for employees working in companies with an average of 250+ employees
- Protection if you are employed on a Fixed Term Contract - which aim to prevent you receiving less favourable treatment in comparison with permanent colleagues
- The right not to be unfairly dismissed - certain ‘agency workers’ also have a limited right to unfair dismissal (see our new guide to agency workers regulations). Military reservists also have dismissal rights connected to their military service; more details are available in our Military Reservists article. The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act ensures that most people who’ve received sentences or cautions are not unfairly dismissed - we’ve got an article dedicated to the changes to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act if you need more information
- For your employer to operate a fair disciplinary and dismissal policy
- Access to a Grievance Procedure at work
- Statutory Redundancy Pay
- If you’re a Sunday worker, check out our guide to Sunday working for more assistance
- Time off for public duties, e.g. Magistrate duties; to attend jury service; for Trade Union activities (where your employer recognises a Trade Union, Union representatives have a statutory right to take paid time off to carry out trade union duties and training)
- There are also rights for Military Reservists - see our new guide for more information
- An itemised pay statement - you can read more details on what should be included on a payslip in our “Guide to pay”, including changes that will be introduced in April 2019. From this date, workers will also be entitled to an itemised payslip
- Plus those rights that a worker has below.
Additionally (slightly off topic!), from early October 2020, people who have served in the Armed Forces for at least one year will automatically get an interview when applying for jobs in the civil service (as part of a Government scheme to improve the employment prospects of service leavers). More information is available here.
Apprentices are also employees but can have slightly different rights - see our guide to apprenticeships for more information.
NB: Often, employers will give benefits/terms to employees that are more generous than the legal minimum entitlements.
The main legal rights of a worker
See our guide to the Agency Workers Regulations that came into effect on 1st October 2011, which give certain ‘agency workers’ rights to equal treatment for pay, working hours, night work, rest breaks, paid holidays, paid time off for antenatal appointments, the right to apply for internal vacancies and access to internal facilities, and give them limited unfair dismissal rights in relation to the regulations.
Agency temps also have rights under the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Business Regulations 2003 - see our new guide for more information.
Workers and employees rights
Workers and employees have the following rights:
- National Minimum/Living Wage
- From 6th April 2020 the right to a written statement by or on Day 1 of your employment
- The right to be automatically enrolled in a pension scheme, and receive Employers Contributions in certain circumstances
- Rest breaks and paid holiday under the Working Time Regulations
- Protection from unauthorised deductions of pay
- Maternity and Adoption Pay (not leave) and Paternity Pay (not leave) - details as above
- Antenatal leave (for agency workers)
- Protection against less favourable treatment if you’re part-time
- To comply with the Parental Leave (EU directive) Regulations, an agency worker who has at least one years service and returned from unpaid parental leave has the right to request flexible working. As your employer is likely to be the agency, not the client (end-hirer), it’s their decision, although this can get complicated as they’ll need knowledge of whether this is acceptable to the client
- Statutory Sick Pay (see our article on accidents and injuries at work)
- Protection against less favourable treatment if you “whistleblow” (i.e. make a disclosure in the public interest)
- Not to be unlawfully discriminated against on grounds of race, sex, marriage/civil partnerships, maternity/pregnancy, disability, gender reassignment, sexual orientation, age, religion/belief, and to receive equal pay the same as with members of the opposite sex (if you can show they are performing similar work of equal value - see our article on gender pay gap reporting for more information)
- Protection under Health and Safety law. For details of the Health and Safety legislation in the UK, take a look at the official hse.gov.uk website. Details about developments in H&S law for workers from December 2020 are available below
- On the 1st October 2013, changes were made to RIDDOR (the statutory accident reporting requirements). See our new article on accidents and injuries at work and our article on Lone Working for more information. With regards to appropriate temperatures in the workplace, there is no legal minimum or maximum temperature set. The law says that during working hours, the temperature inside workplace buildings should be “reasonable”. However, the HSE’s guidance recommends a minimum temperature of 16 degrees for workplaces where work involves physical effort.
- Protection against discrimination for membership or non-membership of a Trade Union. Job applicants are protected from being refused employment because of their trade union membership, and possibly because of their activities related to trade union membership. See details about the 2016 Trade Union Bill here. Since the 6th April 2010, the blacklisting of workers from employment as a result of their union membership or activities is prevented. If a worker is blacklisted and suffers a detriment at work as a result (e.g. been refused employment, been subject to detriment or unfairly dismissed because of being on a blacklist), they can complain to a tribunal for damages and/or restraining or prevention orders against the blacklist
- To be accompanied at a disciplinary or grievance procedure hearing (including home-workers).
On 26th May 2015, exclusivity clauses in zero hours contracts became illegal (in England, Scotland and Wales; in 2022 this has still not yet been enacted by Northern Ireland but may be in the future) – which means that any clause that stops a worker “doing work or performing services” under another contract (with another employer) or stops the worker from doing so “without the employer’s consent” will be unenforceable by the employer. The government published the draft ‘Exclusivity Terms in Zero Hours Contracts (Redress) Regulations 2015, in November.
This became law on 11th January 2016, which means that zero-hours workers will have a right not to be unfairly dismissed if the reason for this dismissal is that they failed to comply with an exclusivity clause (no qualifying period needed); they also have the right not to face any detriment because they failed to comply with an exclusivity clause.
In May 2022 the Government has said that they will extend the existing ban on exclusivity clauses in zero hours contracts, to all types of contracts, where a worker has a guaranteed weekly income at or below the lower earnings limit for National Insurance purposes (currently £123 per week). This came into effect on 5th December 2022.
In 2019 the Government announced a proposed Employment Bill, which would give workers a right, where they do not have guaranteed hours of work, to request a more predictable contract. However, in the recent Queen’s Speech in May 2022, the Employment Bill was absent again, and there is no timescale for when this new right might now be introduced.
However, in May 2022 the Government has said that they will extend the existing ban on exclusivity clauses in zero hours contracts, to all types of contracts, where a worker has a guaranteed weekly income at or below the lower earnings limit for National Insurance purposes.
Other types of workers
There is also a group of workers who are home-workers (or piece workers), who have more limited rights than other workers. These are defined (under the National Minimum Wage Act) as those who contract with someone for the purposes of doing work in a place not under the control of that person. These home-workers are entitled to the National Minimum Wage, rest breaks and holiday provisions under the Working Time Directive, Equality legislation and Statutory Maternity Pay.
The National Minimum Wage also covers Agricultural Workers for the first time - before, their pay was covered by the Agricultural Wages Board. Agricultural workers have slightly different rights to other workers. More details are available here.
The government have changed the law on how long young people are required to stay in education or training; please see here for more information.
You can read our advice about sending employees and contractors to work abroad and how to plan for their safety here.
You can read about your employers duties around workplace gambling (sweepstakes etc.) here.
Workers protection under Health & Safety law
In December 2020, The Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain brought a case concerning the health and safety of gig workers that could be exposed to COVID-19. The Court decided that workers are entitled to the same protection as employees against suffering detriment if they take steps to protect themselves by refusing to work when faced with serious danger of being exposed to COVID-19.
The Court also decided they are entitled to be provided with any necessary PPE by their Employers. As many gig workers are courier drivers and cyclists, this was an important judgement.
In March 2021 the government published draft legislation that will allow workers to have the same protections, already given to employees, against ‘detrimental’ treatment on the grounds of health and safety, following the Independent Workers case above. This will apply in all situations and is not just Covid-19 related.
The new legislation will be effective from 31st May 2021. This means that the Health and Safety at work Act 1974 (and amendments) and the health and safety measures in the Employment Rights Act 1996 (section 44) will apply to workers as well as employees; so workers cannot be subject to any ‘detriment’ by their employer on the grounds that they left or refused to attend their place of work where they reasonably believed there were circumstances of serious and imminent danger, or, they took appropriate steps to protect themselves or others from what they reasonably believed to be circumstances of serious and imminent danger. Workers will have the right to bring a tribunal claim if they believe their employer has subjected them to a detriment. We will update this when we know the date this will be enforced.
The main legal rights of the self-employed (freelancers and contractors)
You don’t have employment rights as such, as you’re seen to be your own boss and can make decisions on fees, holidays etc. You won’t, therefore, generally, be entitled to:
- Your client company’s sick leave, company maternity pay, holiday pay or company pension provisions (some freelancers may be ‘workers’ and so entitled to holiday pay and pension contributions)
- The legal right to protection under your clients company’s internal disciplinary and grievance schemes
- The legal right not to be dismissed (always, however, read the contract of service you’ve agreed, as this may contain clauses relating to termination of your agreement and time-periods).
That being said, you do have legal protection for the following:
- You shouldn’t be discriminated against in the workplace in most cases, and can make a claim to an Employment Tribunal if you feel you are. This protection only applies to freelancers who fall under Part 5 of the Equality Act 2010 - that is, those who are described as ‘contract workers’ and are contracted personally to do the work. For example, you cannot claim discrimination against your employer if you’re contracted for the provision of services and hire some else, or sub-contract someone else, to do the work; you must do the work personally. See our information about Limited Company contractors and the Equality Act here.
- You’re entitled to a safe and healthy working environment (as above) - see www.hse.gov.uk
- On 1st October 2015, the health and safety obligations on freelancers and contractors changed - you can read more about those changes here
- You should be paid for the work that you’ve done. If your client is going into receivership of administration, please read this advice on avoiding bad debts
- Contractors working through Employment Agencies also have rights under the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Business Regulations 2003 - see our guide here.
You may also be entitled to Statutory Maternity Allowance if you’re pregnant and have recently left an engagement.
We’ve written an article all about what rights you have if your client cancels your contract.
Disputes with employer over your rights
Try to resolve the problem first by talking to your manager or Personnel/Human Resources department, if you have one. Your organisation should have its own Grievance Procedure that employees should have access to. You can also talk to your Trade Union or Employee Representative if you have one.
Your local Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) offers free and impartial advice on employment matters - www.citizensadvice.org.uk. ACAS (the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) offers free, confidential advice on all employment rights issues. Their helpline is 08457 474747, and their website can be found here.
If you can’t resolve the matter, you may be able to make a claim at an employment tribunal, but this generally needs to take place within three months of the dispute. The Employment Tribunal Service enquiry line is 08457 959775, and their website address is www.employmenttribunals.gov.uk.
In 2019 the Government announced a proposed Employment Bill, which would establish a single enforcement body for employment rights, and launched a consultation on this. However, in the recent Queen’s Speech in May 2022, the Employment Bill was absent again, and there is no timescale for when this new enforcement body will now be introduced. In January 2023 the then Business Secretary revealed that the Government had no current plans to introduce this new enforcement body, despite 75% of respondents to their initial consultation believing the current arrangements are ineffective!
Other information for freelancers
- On the occasion that you’re classed as a ‘worker’ (for employment rights) but self-employed (for tax purposes), you may be entitled to some of the above workers rights as if you perform the work personally. It’s quite common in the Film and TV Industry, for example, for freelancers to be classed as workers and receive paid holiday under the Working Time Directive legislation
- Most self-employed individuals will pay class two National Insurance Contributions (NICs) which give you entitlement to the basic State Pension and Statutory Maternity Allowance. Class two NICs don’t give you entitlement to Employment and Support AllowanceStatutory Sick Pay or the additional State Pension. You will also need to pay Class 4 National Insurance if the profit made by your sole trade business is more than £8,632 (2019/20 tax year).
- If you’re registered as a limited company and provide your services on a freelance basis to a client organisation (as a provider) then you’ll receive workers right from this organisation - it’s up to you to provide yourself with workers rights as you’re employed by your own limited company
- If you’re freelance, have you considered becoming a limited company? There are many advantages to doing so, both financially and for marketing purposes. There are, though, higher administrative tax burdens to contend with. There are organisations that can help you take care of these burdens - for more information, see our piece on how to form a limited company.
If you are an Employer and need ongoing professional help with any staff/freelance issues then talk to Lesley at The HR Kiosk - a Human Resources Consultancy for small businesses – our fees are low to reflect the pressures on small businesses and you can hire us for as much time as you need.
Please note that the advice given on this website and by our Advisors is guidance only and cannot be taken as an authoritative or current interpretation of the law. It can also not be seen as specific advice for individual cases. Please also note that there are differences in legislation in Northern Ireland.