Help and Advice

Information and advice on contracts and pay, national insurance and tax, and your employment rights.

Contracts

As a worker you have certain protections and duties in the workplace set out in law. These are called 'statutory rights', and are the legal minimum terms and conditions that you can expect from your employer. In addition to this your employer may ask you to agree to extra conditions or give you access to extra benefits such as the length of notice that you need to give before you leave your job. The specific details or 'terms and conditions' of your employment are part of your contract. These are called your 'contractual rights'.

A contract of employment is formed once you agree to work for an employer in return for pay. A contract is an agreement between yourself and your employer, which defines the basic entitlements and obligations that you can expect from each other during your employment. By agreeing to accept the job you show that you are in accordance with the terms and conditions offered by the employer. Both you and your employer are then legally bound by the terms offered and accepted. However, your contractual terms and conditions cannot override the legal minimum set out in law.

Contracts (oral, written or implied) set out your legal rights and duties. Proving the exact contractual terms and conditions can be a complex task, and establishing an absolute definition is normally a matter for an employment tribunal.

Breach of Contract

If your employer does not keep to the agreed terms and conditions, for example they pay you £5 per hour instead of £6 per hour that you had agreed at your interview then this is known as a 'breach of contract'. If you cannot resolve issues through informal or formal procedures, then it may be that you will have to go through an employment tribunal or the law courts.

Most breach of contract claims need to be taken to county court, however depending on the type of breach and whether you believe it resulted in you having to leave your job, you may need to take your case to an employment tribunal. If you suspect that a term of your contract may have been breached it is vital that you seek advice straight away. This is because the time limit for taking a case to an employment tribunal is very strict. Your case will normally be rejected unless it is received within three months of the alleged breach of contract.

Written Statement of Particulars

The law states that certain express terms must be put in writing and handed to you in a 'written statement' within 8 weeks of you starting your employment. If you are taken on as an employee for a job that will last for one month or longer you are entitled to a written statement of particulars. This is a written document which details the main terms and conditions of your job. If they do not then you can take your case to an employment tribunal, during your employment or within three months of leaving. A written statement of particulars is not the same as a contract of employment but it will set out many of the key terms and conditions that are agreed in your contract. If you are ever involved in a dispute with your employer about the terms of your employment then a statement of particulars can be important evidence of your central terms and conditions.

The law states that a written statement must cover:
  • Your name and the name of your employer;
  • Your job title or a brief job description;
  • The date when the employment began;
  • How much and how often you will be paid;
  • Your hours work and where you will be working;
  • How much paid holiday you are allowed to take;
  • Your right to take time off when you are sick;
  • How much money you will receive while you are on sick leave;
  • Details of pensions or pension schemes;
  • How much notice that you will need to give to your employer if you want to leave your job and the minimum notice that your employer will give you if your employment will end;
  • Whether your job is permanent or fixed term giving details of when your employment will end if relevant;
  • Other details relating to 'collective agreements' that may affect you;
  • An explanation of the disciplinary and grievance procedures.

There are also other details that are required by law if you are asked to work abroad for more than one month. These include how long you will need to work abroad and what currency you will be paid in, any additional benefits or pay and the terms surrounding your return to the UK.

National Minimum Wage

Most workers in the UK are legally entitled to a national minimum hourly wage regardless of where they work, the size of the firm or the work that they do. If you are an employee working under a contract of employment you are entitled to the national minimum wage. You are also entitled to national minimum wage if you are a casual labourer, a part-time worker, or on short-term contracts. Agency workers, homeworkers and pieceworkers are also entitled to national minimum wage.

The national minimum wage is (as of 01/10/13):

  • If you are aged 18 - 20 years it is £5.03 per hour
  • If you are aged over 21 it is £6.31 per hour.
  • If you are aged under 18 it is £3.72 per hour. 

This is the standard rate.

You must be paid the national minimum wage for each hour worked in a 'pay reference period'. This means your actual pay period, e.g. if you are paid every week your pay reference period is one week, if you are paid every day, your pay reference period is one day. You do not have to be paid the national minimum wage for each hour worked, but: you must be paid the national minimum wage on average for the time worked in a pay reference period. This means if you work for 4 hours a week and you are paid weekly, it is not important how much you earn in each single hour, but you must be paid at least 4 x £4.98 (if you are aged 18-21) each week.

For more information about the National Minimum Wage, visit the UK Government website. 

There are three main ways that you can be paid for a job:

 

Time work
 

This is the most common method of payment for part-time workers. Your wages are calculated at an hourly rate, e.g. £6.19 hour. There are special rules on whether rest breaks and travelling times are included when calculating whether or not you have been paid the national minimum wage. For further details contact the Student Advice Centre.

Salaried hours work
 

This means you are paid an annual salary and you are generally paid in equal instalments. For example £12,000 per year for a 37hr week, 1/12 of £12,000 will be paid each month, regardless of the actual number of work days that there were in the month.

Output work
 

This is work that is paid according to the number of tasks you complete, items you make or sales you confirm; e.g. £5 per 1000 envelopes you stuff, £2 per tray of strawberries you pick or 30p per ticket you sell. This is also known as piecework or commission work. If you are employed to work for a set number of hours, e.g. from 7am to 11am, you must be paid the average of at least the minimum wage for each hour worked in the pay reference period. If you are not asked to work for set hours you can either be paid for each hour you spend working or you can sign a 'fair estimate' agreement.

A 'fair estimate agreement ' is a written agreement, which should be signed before a pay reference period, setting out how many hours you are likely to work. You must also have a contract stating the piece-rate for each item. It is important that you keep a written record of the hours you work.

You have the right to examine records relating to your pay if you believe you are being paid less than the national minimum wage. You can request a copy from your employer in writing, They must give you that information within 14 days of your letter. If you believe your employer may be breaking the law by not paying you the minimum wage then you can contact HMRC. Their helpline is Tel: 0845 6000 678.

You can read more on the HM Revenue and Customs website about making a complaint about not receiving the national minimum wage from your employer.

Pay Slips

If you are an employee you have a legal right to receive your own detailed written pay statement from your employer at or before the time that you are paid. The only people who do not have this right are members of the police service, certain people in the fishing industry and freelance agents, A pay statement or payslip must by law give written details of the following details:

  • your 'gross' pay i.e. before tax taken off;
  • the amounts of any deductions and why they are deducted. E.g. for income tax, trade union subscriptions or payments to charity;
  • your 'net' pay i.e. after tax has been taken off;
  • net amount of any wages or salary payable;
  • details of how your pay will be paid i.e. by cash or cheque or straight into your bank account (known as a BACS payment).
  • If you are not receiving a pay slip you can make complaint to an employment tribunal. All complaints must be made within three months of being paid without a pay slip.
 
Unlawful deduction from wages

There are certain circumstances when it is lawful for your employer to take money from your wage. These are when:

  • they must deduct by law e.g. income tax or National Insurance contribution;
  • your contract says that they can;
  • you have given written permission for them to do so before the deduction was made;
  • you are repaying a previous overpayment of wages;
  • you have been on strike or taken part in an industrial action.

If you believe that your employer has made a deliberate decision not to pay all or part of the wages and it is not for one of the reasons listed above then your employer may have made an unlawful deduction from wages. If this is the case then you have the right to complain to an employment tribunal to make the employer repay the money that has been deducted.

You can take a case of unlawful deductions from wages to an employment tribunal regardless of how long you have been working for your employer. You must make your complaint to the employment tribunal within three months of the date on which the wages were due to be paid.

Working Time Directive: hours of work, holiday and rest breaks

The Working Time Regulations cover five main areas of your working life:
  • the maximum number of hours you can be asked to work in a week;
  • how many hours you can work at a time;
  • how much rest you are entitled to;
  • special protection for people who work at night;
  • how much paid annual leave or holiday you can have.

You are covered by the regulations if you have a contract of employment (see above) or you are a worker who is not self-employed. As a guide you are not self-employed if you are paid regularly by your employer and it is your employer who tells you when to work, how to work and pays your tax and national insurance contributions.

If you are a worker or employee but you work in the air, rail, road or sea transport industry then you may not be covered by these rules.

Maximum working hours: 48-hour week

It is illegal for your employer to force you to work more than 48 hours a week on average. This may particularly affect you if you decide to work full time over the long vacation or you are a part-time student.

  • The number of hours you work per week is usually averaged over a 17 week period although there can be certain exceptions.
  • If you would like to work for longer than 48 hours a week then you must sign an 'opt out' form stating this. Your employer cannot force you to sign this form.
  • This applies even if you are working for more than one employer.

 

Night Workers

If you regularly work for more than three hours between 11.00pm and 6.00am every night then you are classed as a night worker.

  • As a night worker you should not be asked to work for more than an average of eight hours in every 24-hour period.
  • The average number of hours you have worked is usually averaged over 17 weeks, although there can be certain exceptions.
  • If you work as a night worker in a job that involves special hazards, heavy physical work or mental strain then the limit of eight hours a day is an actual limit per day it is not averaged over a period of time.
  • If you are a night worker your employer is legally bound to offer you a free health assessment before you start your job.
  • As a night worker your employer will also need to make regular checks on your health.

 

Rest Breaks

These are the periods of rest you are entitled to. Your employer does not have to pay you during your rest breaks and they will not be included in calculating how many hours you have worked for National Minimum wage purposes.

You are entitled to:

  • If you work more than six hours a day you are entitled to a rest break of at least 20 minutes
  • you are entitled to a rest period of at least 11 hours in every 24 hours;
  • you are entitled to at least two rest days per fortnight;

There are certain variations in some special circumstances, but the general principle is that every worker has an average of 90 hours a week rest.

Paid Annual Leave

All full time workers are entitled to at least 5.6 weeks paid holiday (or 'annual leave') per year. This is 28 days for someone working five days a week. The amount is pro rata if you work less, so if you work 2 days a week all year round, you will be paid for 11.2 days leave a year.

You begin to qualify for annual leave from your first day of work. In general you are allowed to take 1/12 of your entitlement per month.

Example
If you work for three days every week this means that you are entitled to take 3 days x 5.6 = 16.8 paid holiday days a year. You will be able to take 1.4 days (1/12 x year's entitlement) each month or you can accrue them and take more time off together in one block.

  • You do not have the right to choose which days leave you can take.
  • Your employer can ask you to take bank holidays as part of your leave entitlement.
  • these are minimums set by the law, so you may receive more than this.

There is more detailed information about leave on the UK Government website

We make every effort to ensure information on these pages is accurate and up to date, however policies, procedures and regulations are subject to change. We therefore cannot accept responsibility for any loss, damage or inconvenience suffered as a result of using our pages. Read the full disclaimer.

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