Know their rights // Hiring employees in the UK – Basic legal rights


Establishing your business in the UK may mean you need to think about recruiting a UK workforce. Before you start recruiting, you need to know what rights your new employees will have; Employment laws in the UK can differ significantly from what you are used to back home.

In the UK, the people who make up an employer’s workforce are classified as an employee, worker or self-employed (often referred to as a contractor or consultant). For this article, we will focus on employees and their legal rights, which UK employers will need to know and respect.

Who is an employee?

UK employment law defines an employee as someone who has entered into or is working under a contract of employment. A contract of employment means a contract of service and may be express or implied and, if express, may be oral or in writing. We do, however, always recommend that a contract be made between the parties in writing – to create certainty about the terms (and in fact new legislation introduced in recent years has made written terms a requirement from day one). The manual we have prepared contains a list of factors that indicate that a person is working as an employee.

Employees are entitled to a wide range of statutory rights and protections, whether employed full-time, part-time, permanent or term. By comparison, a worker is entitled to a more limited range of statutory employment rights; and a self-employed person has few statutory rights.

If an employer employs a person using a series of fixed-term contracts for at least four consecutive years, they will generally be considered a permanent employee.

Are all employees equal?

All UK employees have the same employment rights and protections. However, some rights will only come into effect after a certain period of time. For example, an employee can currently only make a formal request for flexwork after 26 weeks of continuous service.

Part-time workers (which include part-time employees) are entitled to the same conditions as comparable full-time workers and have the right not to be prejudiced (or dismissed) because of their status as part-time workers. partiel.

Similarly, term employees are entitled to the same terms and conditions as comparable permanent employees and are entitled to be free from prejudice (or termination) due to their term status.

We’ll take a closer look at employee termination and termination rights, Second part.

Basic legal rights of employees. Please note that workers may also benefit from some of these rights. For more information, please contact us,

Minimum wage

All UK employees over school leaving age (currently 16) must be paid the National Minimum Wage (NMW) and those over the age of 23 are entitled to the National Living Wage (NLW). Rates are updated annually and are available at: It is a criminal offense for an employer to refuse to pay the NMW.

Restrictions on working hours

Employees are generally not allowed to work more than 48 hours per week, normally averaged over a 17-week period. However, in the UK most employees can, and do, opt out of this limit. They can re-register at any time by giving written notice to their employer.

Employees are generally entitled to breaks. For example, an employee who works more than six hours a day is entitled to a 20-minute break away from his workstation. Most employees are also entitled to a weekly break of 24 hours of continuous rest per seven-day period (or 48 hours of continuous rest per fortnight).

There are certain exceptions to working hours restrictions and we will be happy to explain if these may apply to your UK employees.

flexible working

Flexible working is becoming more common, with many companies moving away from fixed 9-5 hours to improve work-life balance and staff productivity. All employees who have worked continuously for the same employer for at least 26 weeks have the right to formally request flexible working arrangements. In practice, many employers will have a policy that allows claims to be made early in employment.

Minimum leave entitlement

All employees are entitled to 5.6 weeks of paid vacation per year (the legal minimum). For a full-time employee, this is equivalent to 28 days (including public holidays). Employees who begin or end their work during a vacation year are entitled to prorated paid vacation.

Public holidays

There are currently eight public holidays and permanent bank holidays in England and Wales. While these can be (and often are) included in an employee’s minimum leave entitlement, employers are not required to let their staff take vacation on these specific days, provided they are not deprived of their legal right to minimum leave.

Paid sick leave

Employees who are unable to work due to illness or injury for four or more consecutive days are entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP), provided they meet the eligibility requirements. The maximum entitlement is 28 weeks of SSP during any period of incapacity for work (or any series of linked periods). Many UK employers also offer contractual sick pay at a higher rate than SSP.

Maternity, paternity and other parental rights

Eligible employees:

  • are entitled to a maximum of 52 weeks of statutory maternity leave and a maximum of 39 weeks of statutory maternity pay (or maternity allowance depending on seniority).
  • are entitled to paternity leave of up to two weeks, which may be paid (again, depending on seniority).
  • are entitled to shared parental leave and parental leave allowance, reducing their maternity/paternity leave entitlements. The rules around shared parental leave are complex and we recommend that you seek advice if a member of staff requests this type of leave.
  • are entitled to one or two weeks of parental bereavement leave at any time within 56 weeks of the death of a child.
  • can also take up to 18 weeks of unpaid parental leave until each child’s 18th birthday.

Details of all these rights are here:

Protection against discrimination

It is illegal in the UK to discriminate against jobseekers and employees on the basis of any of the following protected characteristics: sex, marital or civil partnership status; race (including color, nationality, and ethnic or national origin); sex change; religion or belief; sexual orientation; pregnancy and maternity; age and disability.

If an employee’s complaint of discrimination is successful, the labor court can order the employer concerned to pay compensation to the employee. Although the potential compensation is technically not capped, it is generally based on any actual or potential future loss they would suffer.

Protection against harassment

Harassment is a form of unlawful discrimination if it relates to any of the protected characteristics above (except marital status or civil partnership, or pregnancy and maternity).

An employer is liable for harassment if it engages in undesirable conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic, which undermines the dignity of a worker or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual.

Health and security

As a UK employer, it is your duty to do all that is reasonably practicable to protect the health, safety and welfare of your employees. This means, among other things, carrying out risk assessments and protecting employees or others in the workplace from anything that could harm them.


Under the Pensions Act 2008, every employer in the UK must automatically enroll certain employees (as directed by the regulator) into and contribute to a workplace pension scheme.

Data protection

As an employer in the UK, employers will obtain, process and store personal data (including certain forms of sensitive personal data) relating to their employees. For data protection purposes, this makes the employer a data controller. Each employee will be a data subject, with corresponding rights and obligations.

All employers must process the personal data of their staff in a secure and fair manner, in a proportionate manner and for legitimate reasons, in compliance with applicable data protection legislation:

  • the 2018 Data Protection Act,
  • the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)
  • the UK version of the GDPR, called UK GDPR
  • related guidelines such as those issued by the Office of the Information Commissioner (ICO).

An employee can make a data subject access request (DSAR) to get details of the personal data employers hold about them (and copies of it). This includes:

  • information on the type of data held
  • the purposes for which they are processed
  • the recipients to whom the data has been disclosed.

Unless an exemption applies, employers must respond to a DSAR within one month of receiving it or face possible enforcement action from the ICO, which may include significant fines.

Cross-border data transfers can become complex and we always suggest seeking specialist advice.


While we refer to the UK in this article, the law in the UK can often vary between the four nations, particularly for property, employment or business. When we say United Kingdom we usually mean the position of England and Wales. If you are specifically affected by issues in Scotland or Northern Ireland, let us know and we can discuss this with you in more detail.


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