Your rights in work

It's useful to know your rights at work, as well as some of the legislation which is there to protect them. Here's our quick guide to help you understand the basics.

Employment status

Your employment status helps determine your rights and the responsibilities of your employer. Some of the main types are: 

  • Worker – you have a contract or arrangement to do work or services for money or a benefit in kind. You might be working under a casual, freelance or zero-hours contract
  • Employee – you work under an employment contract. All employees are workers, but employees also have some additional rights
  • Employee shareholders – you work under an employment contract and own at least £2,000 worth of shares in the employer’s company or parent company
  • Self-employed and contractor – you run your business yourself. Employment law doesn’t cover you in most cases as you’re your own boss, but you still have some protections

Find out more about employment status and how it affects your rights.

National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage

The minimum hourly rate you earn depends on your age and whether you're an apprentice.

You need to be at least school leaving age to get the National Minimum Wage. If you're aged 25 or over, the National Living Wage applies instead.

The current rates for the National Living Wage and National Minimum Wage are:

  • 25 and over: £7.20
  • 21 to 24: £6.70
  • 18 to 20: £5.30
  • Under 18: £3.87
  • Apprentice: £3.30. The apprentice rate is for apprentices aged 16 to 18 and apprentices aged 19 or over who are in their first year. Other apprentices are entitled to the minimum wage for their age

If you have any questions or are worried you might be getting the wrong rate, you can get in touch with Acas.

Working time regulations

Full-time employees have a number of basic rights and protections:

  • You don’t need to work more than 48 hours in a week, unless you freely choose to opt-out of the limit and give your employer confirmation of this in writing
  • You're entitled to 5.6 weeks (28 days if you work five days a week) paid leave per year. Your employer can choose to include public holidays in this total
  • You're permitted at least 11 hours rest between working days (eg if you finish work at 8pm, you shouldn’t start again until at least 7am the next day)
  • You have the right to either an uninterrupted 24 hours clear of work each week or 48 hours clear of work each fortnight
  • If you work more than six hours in one shift you are entitled to a 20-minute rest break and additional breaks may be given by your contract of employment. There is no statutory right to cigarette breaks
  • There are a few exceptions to these rights – including the armed forces and emergency services – but the principle is that all workers should have on average at least 90 hours rest a week. It’s worth checking your employment contract as it may say you’re entitled to more or different rights to breaks from work.

All part-time employees should have the same contractual rights as a full-time employee in the same job or at the same level, on a pro-rata basis.

Young people

School leaving age

School leaving age affects some of your rights in work. If you turn 16 between 1 March and 30 September, you can leave school after 31 May of that year. If you turn 16 between 1 October and the end of February you can leave at the start of the Christmas holidays in that school year. This is the minimum school leaving age.

If you’re at school-leaving age, you can work full-time – but there are restrictions if you're under 18.

You can’t:

  • Work in a job you’re not physically or mentally capable of doing 
  • Work in an environment which brings you into contact with chemical agents, toxic material or radiation 
  • Or do work which involves a health risk because of extreme cold, heat or vibration

You can only work under those circumstances if it’s necessary for your training, if there’s an experienced person supervising you, or if risk is reduced to the lowest reasonable level.

However, these rules don’t apply if you’re doing short-term or occasional work in a family business or private household.

If you’re under school leaving age, there are further restrictions.

If you’re 14 or 15:

  • You can do ‘light work’ – but won’t be able to work in places like factories or industrial sites or in most pubs or betting shops
  • You can only work between 7am and 7pm
  • In the summer holidays, you can work for up to 35 hours a week; or eight hours a day (five hours for under-15s) 
  • If you work for more than four hours in a day you must take a rest break of one hour
  • You need to take two consecutive weeks of holiday a year, during the school holidays
  • You can’t do a job which might be harmful to your health, well-being or education

If you're under 14, you’re not allowed to work at all, except:

  • To take part in sport, advertising, modelling, plays, films, television or other entertainment (but you'd need a performance licence) 
  • To do odd jobs for a parent, relative or neighbour
  • To babysit

Other rules may exist depending on the by-laws of your local authority – contact them to find out more. 

You might also need an employment permit, issued by the education department of your local authority, which should be signed by your employer and one of your parents. 

Sick leave and pay

If you need to take time off work because you’re sick, you only need to provide provide proof of illness after seven days off. You have the right to use your statutory holiday entitlement during your sickness.

The weekly rate for Statutory Sick Pay is £86.70 for up to 28 weeks. Your employer can offer more if they have a company sick pay scheme, but can’t offer less.

Gov.uk has more information about taking sick leave and Statutory Sick Pay.

Gender reassignment

If you need to take time off in relation to gender reassignment, your employer can't discriminate against you. This should be treated the same as absence because of sickness or injury. 

You can find more detailed advice on the Citizens Advice website.

Your rights when having a child

If you’re pregnant, you have certain rights as an employee:

  • Paid time off for antenatal care
  • Maternity leave
  • Maternity pay or allowance
  • Protection against unfair treatment, discrimination or dismissal

Your workplace should also be assessed for health and safety risks. Find out more about your rights.

If your partner is having a baby, you might be eligible for:

  • One or two weeks paid ordinary paternity leave
  • Up to 26 weeks paid additional paternity leave – if the mother returns to work
  • Unpaid leave for antenatal appointments

Find out more about paternity rights.

If you’re taking time off work to adopt a child, you might be eligible for:

  • Statutory adoption leave
  • Statutory adoption pay

Only one person in a couple can take adoption leave. The other partner could get paternity leave instead. Find out more about adoption pay and leave.

Trade union membership

Unions look after their members’ interests at work, including things like negotiating with employers over pay and conditions, or going with members to disciplinary and grievance meetings. 

You have the right to join a union or not. To find out more about your employment rights and union membership, visit Gov.uk. There's more information about unions in Scotland through the Scottish Trades Union Congress.

Temporary or seasonal jobs

For seasonal work, you’ll probably be on a fixed-term, part-time or zero hours contract.

If you’re on a fixed-term or part-time contract, your employer must not treat you less favourably than permanent employees doing a similar job, unless they can show there’s a good business reason to do so. If you feel you’ve been treated less favourably, you should first discuss this with your employer or trade union representative. Find out more about your rights at Gov.uk.

Did you know?

  • A fixed-term contract is an employment contract with the organisation you work for which ends on a particular date, or on completion of a specific task
  • A full-time worker usually works 35 hours or more a week  
  • A part-time worker is someone who works fewer hours than a full-time worker

Ending the contract

Are you a part-time worker? Then you must be given at least the notice stated in your contract or the statutory minimum notice period, whichever is longer.

Fixed-term contracts will normally end automatically when they reach the agreed end date. Your employer doesn’t have to give any notice. Find more advice on Gov.uk.

Volunteering

As a volunteer, you won’t have the same rights as an employee or worker. This is because you won’t have a contract of employment.  Instead, you’ll usually be given a volunteer agreement explaining what you’ll do, any training and health and safety issues.

Find out more about your rights as a volunteer

Discrimination

The Equality Act 2010 makes sure you have the right to work in an environment that does not discriminate against you because of:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Marriage and civil partnership
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Race
  • Religion or belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation

These are called 'protected characteristics' and any employer or colleague that discriminates against you on these grounds is breaking the law.

There are a number of different types of discrimination, so if you think you're being unfairly disadvantaged it could take one or more of the following forms.

Direct discrimination

When one employee is treated less favourably than another because of a protected characteristic. For example, if a female job applicant gets passed over for a job in favour of a male applicant who is less suited for the role.

Indirect discrimination

When a policy or working condition puts someone with a protected characteristic at a disadvantage.  For example, requesting that all employees are clean shaven effectively puts members of some religious groups at a disadvantage. 

Harassment

When an employee is exposed to offensive or intimidating behaviour. Even giving someone an undesirable nickname or making inappropriate jokes can be classed as harassment. Even if you are not the direct target of this behaviour, it might create an offensive atmosphere. Don't be afraid to speak out. 

Victimisation

If you’re treated unfairly or put at a disadvantage because you have tried to take or taken action against discrimination. For example, if you were given a poor reference because you’ve made a complaint about discrimination.

  • The Equality and Human Rights Commission can give you advice on all aspects of discrimination, harassment and victimisation, and they can also provide details of solicitors experienced in this area of the law. You can give them a ring on 0845 604 5510

Confidentiality

A person's transgender status should be treated as confidential, the same way that any other sensitive personal information would be treated. It's an offence for anyone in an official capacity – including the workplace – to reveal someone's transgender status to a third party, without their consent. There's more information about this on the Scottish Transgender Alliance website.

Disclosure Scotland

If you're working with children or vulnerable adults, you may have to undergo Disclosure Scotland checks. Part of the application form is declaring any previous names. However, it is acceptable for trans people to send a separate letter which details previous names. The Scottish Transgender Alliance has more advice about what to do.

Young Scot LawLine

If you're aged 11-25, you can get free, confidential legal advice 24 hours a day on the Young Scot LawLine. Call 0808 801 0801 to speak to a lawyer at JC Hughes Solicitors. Find out more on the Young Scot website.