Basic employment rights

"Achieve what you want, defend what you are"

Everyone has rights in the workplace. 

Employment rights vary depending on your employment status, for example, whether you are a worker or an employee.

  • a worker is someone who has a contract or arrangement to do work or services personally for a reward, which can be money or a benefit in kind
  • an employee is someone who has an employment contract from their employer to do regular work.

All employees are workers, but not all workers are employees. An employee has all the rights a worker has, plus some extra rights and responsibilities.

You may have to be employed for a minimum, continuous period of time before you qualify for some employee rights. 

Top 10 employment rights

1 - You must receive a payslip

A payslip should be given on the day you get paid, or before. It must show a detailed breakdown of the pay you got for the relevant time period, plus any deductions such as income tax and National Insurance.

Your employer can decide whether they provide payslips on paper or online.

An employee payslip must include:

  • total pay before and after deductions (the gross amount and net amount respectively)
  • variable deductions, which are different depending on how much you are paid. Examples of variable deductions include tax, National Insurance, Student Loan repayments and pension contributions
  • fixed deductions – these can also be explained in a separate statement, which must be sent out before the first payslip and updated every year.

Your payslip may also include your tax code.

2 - You must not be discriminated against

Discrimination occurs when someone is treated unfairly in the workplace because of a protected characteristic within the Equality Act 2010.

The protected characteristics are:

  • age
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • marriage or civil partnership
  • pregnancy or maternity
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation.

Discrimination can be direct or indirect:

  • direct discrimination takes place when the unfair treatment is because of the protected characteristic. For example, if a pregnant woman was absent due to morning sickness and an employer used this when taking disciplinary action against their attendance record, this would be direct discrimination
  • indirect discrimination takes place when rules that apply to a group of employees or applicants are reasonable in theory, but less fair to a specific protected characteristic in practice. For example, if all employees are required to work one Saturday a month, this would be indirect discrimination against employees of the Jewish faith because Saturday is a religious day for them.

Sometimes discrimination is justified – this is known as objective justification. For example, if a surgeon’s eyesight has deteriorated to the point where they are unable to carry out operations, their workplace would be justified in changing the surgeon’s duties in order to protect patients.

If you think you are being discriminated against at work, you can:

You can then decide what action to take and whether to seek legal advice.

3 - Health and safety laws apply to your working environment

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, employers have a duty to provide a safe, healthy environment for their employees. This includes providing facilities such as toilets, wash basins and clean drinking water, keeping the workplace clean, ventilated and well lit and maintaining any equipment used.

4 - Statutory sick pay

Eligible employees can get Statutory Sick Pay (SSP).

You can get SSP for up to 28 weeks, providing you:

  • have done some work for your employer
  • earn an average of at least £123.00 per week before tax
  • been ill, self-isolating or shielding for at least four days in a row (including non-working days).

How many days you can get it depends on why you are off work.

If you’re off sick, you can get SSP from the 4th day you’re off sick. The 3 days before this are known as “waiting days” – you can only be paid for them if you’ve already received SSP within the last 8 weeks and that included a 3-day waiting period.

5 -Statutory maternity and paternity rights

Maternity leave and pay


Employees have the right to take Statutory Maternity Leave, which is 52 weeks. 

The first 26 weeks is known as 'ordinary maternity leave'. The last 26 weeks is known as 'additional maternity leave'.

You don’t have to take all 52 weeks. However, you must take 2 weeks’ leave after your baby is born, or 4 weeks if you are employed by a factory.

All your employee rights are protected while you are on maternity leave.


Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) is paid for up to 39 weeks, in the same way as your wages. You receive 90% of your average weekly earnings before tax for the first 6 weeks. For the next 33 weeks, you receive either SMP or 90% of your average weekly earnings.

You qualify for SMP if you:

  • earn at least £123 a week (on average)
  • give your employer at least 28 days notice
  • give your employer proof you’re pregnant (a doctor or midwife’s letter or your MATB1 certificate)
  • have worked for your employer continuously for at least 26 weeks continuing into the qualifying week, which is the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth.

SMP starts at the same time as your maternity leave.

Paternity leave and pay


Employees have the right to take paternity leave if their partner has a baby, providing they give the correct notice. You must have been continuously employed by the same employer for at least 26 weeks up to any day in the 15th week before the baby is due (known as the qualifying week).

You can choose to take 1 or 2 weeks. They must be taken in one go and your leave must end within 52 weeks of the child's birth.

All your employee rights are protected while you are on paternity leave.


Statutory Paternity Pay (SPP) is paid for up to 2 weeks, in the same way as your wages. You will receive SPP or 90% of your average weekly earnings.

You qualify for SPP if you:

  • are employed by your employer up to the date of the birth
  • have been continuously employed by your employer for at least 26 weeks up to any day in the 15th week before the baby is due
  • earn at least £123 per week before tax
  • give your employer notice using the SC3 form, at least 15 weeks before the baby is due.

6 - You are allowed to request flexible working

Employees have the right to request flexible working (known as making a statutory application) from the first day of employment. You can make this application twice per year.

You must write to your employer to make the request and include the following information:

  • the date of your request
  • the change you're requesting – for example the change in your hours or place of work
  • when you'd like the change to start
  • if you have made any previous statutory flexible working requests to your employer
  • the date of any previous requests.

Your employer must make a decision within 2 months. They must change the terms and conditions in your contract if they grant your request. If they refuse it, they must explain the business reasons behind their decision. You can complain to an employment tribunal if you have a case.

7 - You are entitled to time off for annual leave

Employers must provide employees who work a 5-day week at least 28 days of paid annual leave per year. This can include bank holidays.

You can accrue holiday entitlement during maternity, paternity and adoption leave and while off sick.

8 - Minimum notice periods

A minimum notice period is the length of time your employer must give you before your employment ends, or that you give an employer before you leave their service. Both of these should be detailed in your contract.

There are statutory minimum notice periods:

  • 1 week’s notice must be given you you have worked between one month and 2 years
  • You are entitled to 1 week for every year worked, up to a maximum of 12 weeks, if you have worked between 2 and 12 years.

The minimum statutory notice periods apply even if your employment contract states a shorter length of time. If your contract gives a higher notice period, you have the right to receive the longer notice period.

9 - Statutory redundancy pay

You have the right to receive statutory redundancy pay if you’ve been working for your employer for two or more years, with length of service capped at 20 years. You’ll receive:

  • ½ a week’s pay for each full year you were under 22
  • 1 week’s pay for each full year you were between the ages of 22 and 40
  • 1 ½ week’s pay for each full year you were aged 41 or more.

Weekly pay is calculated as the average you earned per week over the 12 weeks before the day you received your redundancy notice. You can calculate your redundancy pay on the government website.

10 - Protection against unfair dismissal

Employers must give a lawful reason if they choose to terminate an employment contract. They must also give the agreed amount of notice in the contract (unless this is lower than the statutory minimum notice period), and follow a fair procedure throughout the process.

A fair dismissal occurs for one of the following reasons:

  • your conduct
  • your ability to do the job
  • redundancy
  • you no longer meet a legal requirement necessary to carry out your job (for example, if you had to drive but lost your license).

You can also have your contract terminated for some other substantial reason outside of the above.

There are some cases where the dismissal would be considered unfair.

You must have been continuously employed by your employer for a minimum of two years in order to be legally protected against unfair dismissal. However, there are some instances of unfair dismissal where you are protected from your first day.

These include:

  • being a member of a trade union
  • refusing to give up a statutory right, such as the right to a break or asking for flexible working hours
  • whistleblowing (if you report wrongdoing you’ve seen at work)
  • being dismissed because of a protected characteristic, such as race, religion, pregnancy or sexual orientation.

Employers must pay former employees compensation if an employment tribunal decides their dismissal was unfair. This can be up to 1 year’s pay, or the current statutory maximum (whichever is lower).

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