Laws and legal rights

In the United Kingdom, employees are given basic rights by national and EU regulations. These rights help to protect both the employer and the employee from being taken advantage of. Understanding your rights as an employee can help to protect you in the workplace.

What Are The Working Hours Requirements?

Each employee should have their working hours set out in their employment contract. The contract will normally set out a minimum number of contracted hours, but the employee may work more hours as overtime. Zero-hours contracts may state that the employee is given a minimum of zero hours of work per week.

In general, UK law states that employees cannot work more than 48 hours per week on average (with the figure normally being averaged out over a period of 17 weeks). However, employees can choose to opt out of the working time directive. Under 18s are only permitted to work for 40 hours a week and cannot opt out of this regulation. Working time does not include time spent on call, on breaks, on holiday, or time spent travelling to work.

Employment Contracts Explained

An employment contract is a document or verbal agreement which sets out the rights and responsibilities of both the employee and the employer. Any contract issued in the United Kingdom must meet the rights set out by UK employment law, however, the contract can give the holder additional rights. An employment contract cannot limit your legal rights, even if you have signed it and agreed to it. Likewise, your contract cannot require you to do anything illegal as part of your role.

An employment contract can include expressed terms and implied terms. The expressed terms are those which are clearly stated in the contract, such as sick pay, hours of work, holiday pay, and required notice period. Implied terms are not written down or verbally agreed upon, but they exist through common knowledge and practice; for example, an employee should not steal from their employer.

An employer cannot change the terms of your contract without your agreement, and they cannot fire you for failing to agree to new contract terms. However, your company may be able to make your redundant if you will not agree to a new contract. If you are made redundant, the company must pay a redundancy settlement which is in line with legal requirements and any terms which were set out in the old contract.

Sick Pay And Legal Rights

Most employees are entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) if they are forced to take time off of work due to illness. SSP can be paid by the employer for up to 28 weeks. The SSP rate is £89.35 per week minimum. Some employees may be entitled to a higher rate, if their employer has set up its own occupational or sick pay scheme. If you are unsure whether you are entitled to a higher rate of sick pay, check your employment contract or ask your HR department. SSP is not paid for the first 3 days off of work, unless you have been paid SSP in the last eight weeks for a related illness.

To qualify for SSP, you must be classified as an employee, you must be off for at least 4 days in a row, you must earn more than £113 per week, and you must not have used up all of your existing SSP allowance. You are also required to follow your company’s reporting policy to confirm absence. Your SSP will be paid to you in the same way that your wages are paid to you, and tax and National Insurance contributions will be deducted if necessary.

Bereavement Pay And Rights

At present, there is no legal right for employees to receive pay if they are forced to take time off of work due to bereavement. However, most employers will allow their employees to take some time off in the event of bereavement. This time may be paid or unpaid, depending on the company’s own policy. The Employment Rights Act 1996 states that all workers are allowed “time off for a dependant”, however this does not have to be paid. This should include taking time off to arrange and attend a funeral. However, employers do not have to let their employees take time off to attend a funeral if the deceased was not classed as a dependant.

You are advised to familiarise yourself with your rights and responsibilities when you start a new job. If you do not agree with any of the terms of employment, you should query them before you sign the contract. If you are confused about your rights as an employee, you are advised to speak to your HR representative, the Citizens’ Advice Bureau or ACAS. ACAS is an organisation which can help employers and employees to resolve employment disputes.

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