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Basic rights

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Quick links

- Employment contracts
- Changing your terms and conditions
- Pay and Benefits

- Holidays
- Notice periods
- Working hours
- Sick leave and sick pay
- Family friendly working
- Other rights

Work is a huge part of most people’s lives and when something goes wrong it can have significant consequences.  We’ve put together some information about the basic employment rights our callers often want to know about, but everybody’s situation is different. Often the quickest and easiest way to understand your position is to speak to someone. We talk to hundreds of people a week about employment problems and what they can do to protect themselves. Our experienced advisers will always tell you about practical alternatives as well as discussing your legal position with you.

Employment contracts

Every employee is entitled to a written statement of their terms and conditions. This should be given to you within 8 weeks of you starting a new job. The law sets out the minimum information that the written statement has to have in it, which includes:

  • The employer’s name and address
  • The employee’s name, job description or job title and start date
  • If the employee’s previous job counts towards their period of continuous service, the date their continuous service started
  • If it isn’t a permanent contract, how long the job is expected to last or the end date if it is a fixed term contract
  • Notice periods
  • How much and when the employee will be paid
  • Hours of work, including whether there will be overtime or Sunday or night working
  • Place of work or places of work and whether the employee may have to relocate
  • Information about collective agreements
  • Information about pensions
  • Who to go to with a grievance
  • How to complain about how a grievance is handled
  • How to complain about disciplinary decision or a dismissal

The written statement must also say where you can find information on:

  • Sick pay and procedures
  • Disciplinary and dismissal procedures
  • Grievance procedures

Employment contracts will often contain more information than this as employers can use them to be clear about your duties and pay and benefits and to avoid any arguments later.

If you are not given a written statement or an employment contract you can go to the Employment Tribunal for a ruling on what your contract terms and conditions are. If you have another claim against your employer, like unfair dismissal, you may be awarded additional compensation if you have not been provided with a written statement of your terms and conditions. 

Sometimes, things that are not written into the employment contract can become part of the terms and conditions, either because you and your employer have agreed to them (just not written them down) or because they have become part of the contract because that is how you have always done your work.


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Changing your terms and conditions 

We often get asked about changing terms and conditions.

Whether or not they can be changed depends on lots of factors, including the employment contract and normal way of working, the reasons for the changes and what the changes are, as well as your personal circumstances.

Normally, there would need to be agreement between your employer and you about any changes and the changes should be agreed in writing. Generally, an employer cannot change your terms and conditions without your consent and to do so could be a breach of contract. 

If you refuse to accept changes to your terms and conditions, your employer may try to dismiss you for ‘some other substantial reason’ and re-hire you on the new terms and conditions (with your continuous service intact). If this happens, you may have a claim for unfair dismissal.

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Pay and Benefits

Pay and benefits are really important, after all, most people don’t work for the fun of it! Pay and benefits are agreed between the employer and the employee. There is a minimum amount that has to be paid per hour of work. This is called the National Minimum Wage.

The new National Minimum Wage rates for pay periods starting on or after 1 October 2016 will be:

£6.95 per hour 21-24 years old
£5.55 per hour 18-20 years old
£4 per hour 16-17 years old
£3.40 per hour apprentices under 19 and all apprentices in the first year of their apprenticeship

The National Living Wage for workers aged 25 and above remains unchanged at £7.20 per hour until April 2017.
You can check the National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage rates at any time by visiting

The national minimum wage usually increases in October.


Benefits, such as private healthcare or a company car can be an important part of your work package. There can be situations (such as sick leave, or where your salary is paid in lieu of notice) where the employer does not continue providing the benefits to you. Whether or not it is legal for an employer to withhold benefits will depend on a variety of factors, including:

  • The employment contract.
  • The employer’s policies and procedures.
  • The reason the benefits have been withdrawn.
  • The type of benefits that have been withdrawn.


Your employer should give you a payslip to explain what you are being paid for and any deductions. A payslip has to have certain information on it, or included with it, including:

  • Amount of pay before any deductions (gross pay).
  • Any fixed deductions from the pay (tax, national insurance).
  • Any variable deductions from the pay (e.g. a loan repayment).
  • Amount of pay after any deductions (net pay).
  • Any part pay or pay accounted for differently, e.g. cash or a payment made into a bank account. The amount and the method of payment should be clear.

Deductions from wages

Sometimes an employer will deduct money from your wages before they are paid. If an employer deducts money, they must be very clear what the deduction is for and should tell you that it is going to happen. Employers can only deduct money from wages in these situations:

  • It is required by law, e.g. income tax or student loan repayments.
  • The employee has agreed in writing to a deduction.
  • The employment contract says the employer can do it.
  • It is a result of statutory disciplinary proceedings.
  • There is a statutory payment due to a public authority.
  • The pay is withheld because you have not worked due to taking part in a strike or industrial action.
  • It is a recovery of an overpayment of wages or expenses.
  • It is a result of a Court Order or Employment Tribunal decision.

Except in very limited circumstances, a deduction must not reduce your pay below the National Minimum Wage, even if you have given your permission for it.

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All employees are entitled to 5.6 (28 days) weeks paid holiday if they work full time and a proportion of that if they work part time. For example; if you work 2.5 days a week rather than 5 days a week you’d be entitled to 2.8 weeks rather than 5.6 weeks. Some employment contracts give employees more paid holiday but you must always be given the minimum holiday entitlement. You can calculate your statutory holiday entitlement here.

There is no automatic right to have Bank Holidays off, or to be paid double time for working on a Bank Holiday. Whether or not you have the right to have Bank Holidays off will depend on your employment contract.

Employers cannot pay you instead of giving you your statutory holiday entitlement. If you are unable to take your statutory leave because of illness or pressures of work, you may have a right to carry it forward into the next work year.

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You have the right to be given one week’s notice by your employer after you’ve been with them a month and an additional week for every full year you’ve been with them from the second year onwards. So if you have been with the employer 2 years, you are entitled to 2 weeks’ notice. After you’ve been with the employer 1 month, you have to give 1 week's notice.

The most statutory notice you can have is 12 weeks if you have been with the employer 12 full years or longer.

You might be entitled to longer notice or have to give the employer more notice if it says so in your employment contract. This is called contractual notice.

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Working Hours

You usually have a right not to work more than 48 hours a week (averaged out over a 17 week period) unless you have agreed to and signed an opt-out. You can change your mind about an opt-out and your employer should not treat you badly if you won’t work over the 48 hour week.

There are three main types of rest that you are usually entitled to:

  • A rest break of 20 minutes if you work over 6 hours.
  • Daily rest of 11 hours between time at work (e.g. if you finish work at 8pm you should not start again before 7am the next day).
  • Weekly rest of 24 hours every 7 days, or 48 hours every fortnight.

There are different rules for young workers and there are different rules for some professions, e.g. soldiers.

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Sick Leave and Sick Pay

If you cannot attend work because you are ill, you might be entitled to sick leave. There are no rules about how much sick leave is reasonable in any particular situation, but an employer should not dismiss or treat you badly because you have taken some sick leave. If you take a lot of sick leave and are not considered disabled for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010 or the employer thinks you are not being truthful about the illness then the employer may decide to discipline you.

If you are so ill it is unlikely you will be able to return to work, or it is unlikely you will be able to do your job then the employer might have to dismiss you on the grounds of capability. There are special protections for employees who are disabled under the Equality Act 2010.

Statutory sick pay is paid if you are on sick leave for more than three days and meet the legal requirements. These requirements are:

  • Earning at least £109 per week before tax.
  • Being an employee.
  • Being sick for 4 days or longer.
  • Telling your employer in line with their sickness policy, or if they don’t have a policy, within 7 days of becoming ill.

Statutory sick pay isn’t usually paid for the first three days of illness, but then you are entitled to £86.70 a week for up to 28 weeks. Sick pay normally won’t be paid unless you have a valid fit note from a medical professional, usually a GP.

Your employer might have better contractual sick pay and you should always check your employment documentation to see if you are entitled to more money. You may need to comply with your employer’s sickness policy (including having a valid fit note) to be eligible for any sick pay.

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Family Friendly Working

Maternity, paternity and parental rights often cause a lot of confusion. We’ve put together some basic information about the statutory rights here but it is important to check the relevant employment documentation as employers sometimes offer better contractual entitlements than the statutory minimums.

Maternity Leave

A pregnant employee is entitled to statutory maternity leave without any qualifying period. Statutory maternity leave is 52 weeks, made up of 26 weeks of ordinary maternity leave and 26 weeks of additional maternity leave.

You have to take a minimum of two weeks off after the birth of a baby (four weeks for some jobs, like factory work) and can take up to the full 52 week allowance.

You have to give your employer sufficient notice about leaving on and returning from maternity leave. You can find out more about the notice requirements here.

During maternity leave or additional paternity leave an employee can return for up to 10 days of work without losing the right to maternity or paternity pay. These are known as ‘keeping in touch days’ and you can find out more about them here.

If you return to work after ordinary maternity leave, you have the right to return to your job. If you return after additional maternity leave you have the right to return to a job similar in seniority, pay, benefits and duties if it is not possible to return to your old job. Sometimes it isn’t possible for you to return to your job, perhaps because there has been a restructure. These situations can be complicated and it is best to get advice on your specific circumstances. Our experienced advisers will always tell you about practical alternatives as well as discussing your legal position with you.

Paternity Leave

The partner of the person having a baby may be entitled to a maximum of 2 weeks of ordinary paternity leave and may be entitled to up to 26 weeks of additional paternity leave if the baby’s mother returns to work. The leave needs to taken in blocks of a week. Ordinary paternity leave cannot start before the baby is born and must be taken by the time the baby is 56 days old. 

Additional paternity leave can start from 20 weeks after the baby’s birth and can be taken until the baby’s first birthday.

There are eligibility requirements for paternity leave. You can see if you are eligible here.
There are notice requirements for paternity leave. You can see how to give the correct notice to claim paternity leave here.
You can find out more about paternity leave here.

Maternity Pay

To be eligible for maternity pay an employee needs to have worked for 26 weeks for the employer by the end of the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth,  to be earning the required amount (currently an average of £109 per week), to give the correct notice and proof of the pregnancy. If you cannot get maternity pay you might be able to get maternity allowance.

The statutory maternity pay rate is currently 90% of your average weekly earnings (before tax) for the first 6 weeks and then £136.78 or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) for the next 33 weeks.

There is more information on eligibility and how to claim maternity pay here.
There is a statutory maternity pay calculator here.

Paternity Pay

To be eligible for ordinary paternity pay you need to have worked for your employer for 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the expected week of child birth, to be employed by them when the baby is born, to be earning the required amount (currently £109 on average per week) and to give the correct notice.

To be eligible for additional paternity pay, the baby’s mother must have qualified for maternity leave or pay or maternity allowance and have gone back to work with at least 2 weeks of paid leave left. You must be the taking the leave to care for a baby you have parental responsibility for and you must fulfil the criteria for ordinary paternity pay, and still be employed by your employer at the date your pay and leave is expected to start. You will also need to confirm the start and end of the mother’s leave.

Paternity pay is paid at £136.78 or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower).

You can find out more about paternity pay, notice and eligibility here.

Adoption Pay and Leave

There are provisions similar to maternity and paternity rights for those adopting a child. You can find out more about adoption entitlements here.

Flexible working

If you have been with your employer for 26 weeks, you have the right to request flexible working. Flexible working is adjusting your job (usually your working hours) to make it easier for you to maintain a work-life balance. There is no set procedure that you have to go through to request flexible working and your employer has to handle the request in a reasonable manner, but can refuse it if there is a good business reason to do so. ACAS have produced a code explaining what a reasonable process should contain. You can see it here.

You can find out more about flexible working here.

Parental leave

If you have parental responsibility for a child under 5 (or under 18 in certain circumstances) and have been an employee with your company for a year you are entitled to unpaid parental leave. You can take up to 4 weeks each year of parental leave and up to 18 weeks in total per child. Your employer can ask you to delay the leave if there is a good business reason for it.

You can find out more about parental leave and how to claim it here.

Time off for dependents

You are entitled to reasonable time off to deal with emergency situations with your dependents. A dependent could be your child, or anyone else for whom you have a caring responsibility. This time is usually unpaid and it is only for you to make arrangements for someone to care for the dependents, not for you to care for them yourself.

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Other Rights

There are lots of other rights and entitlements that may apply to employees or workers, depending on their exact circumstances. Here are some of the main ones our callers want to know about:


The Equality Act 2010 is the law that protects employees and workers from discrimination. You can read more about discrimination here.

Unfair Dismissal

If you are an employee and meet the required criteria you have the right not to be dismissed unfairly. You can read more about unfair dismissal here.

Protection for Agency Workers

The law has special protections to stop agency workers being treated less well than employees doing the same job. Some of the protections (like the right to use workplace facilities like canteens) start on the first day of work, but some only take effect after you’ve been working there for 12 weeks.

There is more information about the Agency Workers Regulations here.

Protection for Part Time-Workers and People on Fixed Term Contracts

You should not be treated less favourably because you work part-time or are on a fixed term contract.
You can find out more about protections for part-time workers here.
You can find out more about protections for those on fixed term contracts here.

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