The right to work is a fundamental one enjoyed in most cultures around the world. Additional worker rights are not necessarily universal, however. In some countries workers have very few rights while in others, like the UK, a full range of rights are clearly spelled out in the law.
Whether you are a citizen or not, your working in the UK means you have certain rights your employer cannot abridge, regardless of the circumstances. When your rights are abused or trampled, you have access to the courts for appropriate redress. In many cases that redress involves filing a compensation claim through a certified employment law solicitor.
Law Protects Workers from Abuse
The idea behind employment laws is to protect workers from abuse suffered at the hands of employers who have no regard for the well-being of those whom they employ. The need for such regulation came about because of the abuses seen at the start of the industrial age. And while things have improved drastically over the last few generations, there still are abuses that need to be addressed.
Similarly, employment law also protects companies from workers who attempt to take advantage of the employer/employee relationship with no regard to their own fiduciary responsibility. In other words, employees have a responsibility to advance their company’s best interests and obey the law at all times when on the job. When a worker fails to live up to those responsibilities, employment law allows companies their own means of redress.
Rights Afforded to Workers
The Citizens Advice Bureau explains that worker rights are divided into two categories: contract and statutory. Contract rights are those spelled out in a specific employer/employee contract that are either not addressed in the law or go above and beyond what the law provides. Statutory rights are those that have been codified in UK law.
It should be noted that contract rights could not supersede statutory rights in any way. Any language included in an employee contract that does so is automatically null and void. Statutory rights always take precedence over contract language.
The statutory rights afforded every UK worker are as follows:
- Terms of Employment – Every worker has the right to a written copy of the terms of employment under which he or she is working. The employer must furnish this information within two months of the start of employment.
- Pay and Wages – In terms of pay and wages, every worker has the right to an itemised pay slip, 28 days of paid holiday time (full-time workers), pay at least equal to the national minimum wage, and the right not to have illegal deductions taken from pay.
- Time Off – If a worker belongs to a trade union, he or she has the right to time off in order to fulfil union duties or attend union activities. Workers meeting certain conditions also have the right to paid time off to look for new work (if facing redundancy) or to pursue studies and/or additional training (16-17-year-olds).
- Maternity/Paternity – Both mothers and fathers have the right to paid time off for maternity and paternity leave. If a worker needs to take time off for prenatal care, that must also be paid by the employer.
- Parenting Issues – Parents have the right to paid time off for adoption leave; they are allowed unpaid parental leave for the purposes of taking care of children. They also have the right to flexible scheduling if they need to care for children or other dependants.
- Working Hours – Where normal working hours are concerned, employees have two fundamental rights: the right to weekly and daily rest breaks and the right to work a maximum 48-hour workweek.
- Discrimination – Every UK worker, regardless of personal circumstances, has the right not to be discriminated against for any reason.
- Dismissal – Should workers face dismissal they have the right to a written notice explaining the reasons for their employer’s actions (time limits apply). If a worker is dismissed improperly, he or she has the right to financial compensation. Furthermore, workers engaging in “whistle blowing” cannot be dismissed for those actions.
- Redundancy – After two years of service, a worker being made redundant has the right to receive redundancy pay.
- Contractual Rights – Both part-time and fixed term employees have the right to expect the same contractual rights afforded similar full-time and permanent employees.
As a worker, you may be afforded additional rights under your current contract. However, some types of workers — e.g., agency and freelance workers — do not have all of the statutory rights listed above. Freelancers are self-employed under the law while agency workers are employed by their agency rather than the actual company contracting for the work.
Changing Contract Terms
The employment contract is one of the most valuable documents for the individual worker. Once the contract is agreed to between the employer and the employee, it must be honoured to the letter by both parties. If a company decides to change the terms of a contract, certain procedures should be followed.
According to the GOV.UK website, the employer must at least obtain the worker’s consent before altering a contract. It has suggested that the company also:
- consult directly with the worker or a representative and negotiate when necessary
- give a full explanation as to why the changes are being sought
- discuss other options with the worker and/or his or her representative
If the employee wants changes in his or her contract, he or she is also required to get the consent of the employer. However, a worker has no right to insist the terms of his employment be changed unless it is a statutory matter. Otherwise, the company is free to agree to the changes or reject them. Regardless of who initiates the changing of a contract, anything agreed to by both parties must be formalized in writing before it is valid.
Employment Law Disputes
It is quite common in the UK for disputes to arise among employers and their workers. Unfortunately, as the economy has soured the disputes have become more frequent. Workers tend to accuse their employers of trying to take advantage of them during a weak economy, while companies claim a poor economy is inviting workers to treat them like the proverbial “pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.”
Regardless of the origin of a dispute, both parties have the right to retain legal advice. In a best-case scenario, the solicitors for both parties are able to come together and work out the dispute without having to resort to litigation. When that is not possible, one party may file a civil action against the other as a means of redress.
Although the causes of employment disputes are numerous, here are some of the most common:
- Breach of Contract – Workers who believe their employers have not met the terms of their contract often file breach of contract claims. The claims are designed to rectify the breach and provide some measure of compensation were applicable.
- Breach of Fiduciary Responsibility – The other side of breach of contract is breach of fiduciary responsibility. In these types of cases, the employer is alleging a worker is not fulfilling his or her obligation to ensure the company’s best interests. Not adhering to official company policy is one example.
- Discrimination – These types of disputes involve any perceived discrimination whether it is based on age, ethnicity, sex, etc. Discrimination claims are often difficult to prove.
- Harassment – A harassment complaint is usually the result of some sort of disciplinary action taken against an employee who perceives it to be in retaliation for something else. Harassment complaints can also be tied to religious beliefs, cultural practices, or inappropriate sexual suggestions.
Pursuing Employment Law Claim
Pursuing an employment law claim involves finding a competent solicitor with experience in this area. With literally tens of thousands of solicitors actively working in the UK, it is not difficult to find one. That said, some law firms have more experience than others do in specific types of employment disputes.
Whether you are an affected worker or a company owner, finding the right solicitor is important. You are looking for one who will analyse your case without bias, explain the various courses of action along with the pros and cons of each, and then follow whatever course of action you decide is best. He or she will not dictate to you what you must do.
Workers unable to afford a solicitor may be eligible for Legal Aid or free legal advice from a community law association. It might also be possible to access pro bono legal services from attorneys offering service in your area. In either case, do not fail to investigate your eligibility to make a claim simply for financial reasons. There is enough help available if you want to look for it.
Employment law is something that continuously changes in the UK. For better or for worse, a good grasp of the law is required if workers want to guarantee their rights are not taken away from them. When both employees and employers know and follow the law, both are protected. When both are protected, disputes and litigation are less likely.
If you believe your rights as an employee have been abused or violated, you have the right to seek legal counsel and possibly make a compensation claim. There are thousands of attorneys across the UK willing to help workers fight abuse among employers. The following six links will take you to some of the better-known law firms fighting on behalf of workers:
Slater & Gordon Lawyers – A nationally recognised leader in employment law for individual workers. When you visit this website, you will be able to fill out an online enquiry form or use the listed telephone number to contact the firm directly.
Morris Legal Ltd. – This link takes you to Morris Legal’s got-the-boot.com website. Morris Legal is a niche firm handling cases only having to do with employment law. They offer a no win, no fee option for disaffected employees.
Ashby Cohen Solicitors – A London-based law firm providing legal advice and representation for a wide variety of employment disputes. On this website, you can learn about their service and funding options before deciding what to do.
Farley’s Solicitors LLP – This site belongs to a law firm offering specialist employment law solicitors for workers. To date they have helped thousands of disaffected workers settle with their employers or, in some cases, take matters to an employment tribunal.
Gordon Turner Employment Lawyers – This firm only deals with employment law cases. Mr Turner himself has been a specialist employment law solicitor for 20 years. The firm has offices in London, Manchester, and Preston.
Dale Langley & Co. – This specialist law firm deals only with employment law cases with a special emphasis on professionals. They represent clients both domestically and internationally. Their offices are located in central London.
Company owners and managers looking to defend themselves in employment law disputes also have the right to legal counsel. Below are links to the websites of law firms specialising in employment law from the perspective of the employer. Having the right solicitor could be the difference between winning and losing your case.
MTA Solicitors – A London-based solicitor with four offices throughout England. This firm is recognised by the Law Society and has achieved the Lexcel standard of operational excellence. Their expert employment law department can help your business.
Orbis Solicitors – This law firm offers a wide range of legal services across England and Wales. They have a department of experts dedicated solely to employment law for employers. They offer a pragmatic approach that is results driven.
Laytons Solicitors – With offices in London and Manchester, this firm is ready to assist your business dealing with all types of employment law disputes. They can also walk you through the employment tribunal process if necessary.
Martin & Co. – This law firm was the first in Manchester to be focused exclusively on employment law. They have been recognised by Legal 500 as one of the top employment law firms in Manchester for 10 years running.
Lanyon Bowdler Solicitors – The employment law division of this law firm offers dedicated services to employers. Their approach is one of finding the solution most attractive to the employer, regardless of what it might be.
Phillips Solicitors – A firm with a focus on commercial customers. Their employment law division can defend your company against a myriad of employment law issues. They can also advise on how to mitigate future risk.