When Your Rights Start

If you are an employee, you will have a contract of employment. It doesn’t need to have been written down (although it will be much easier to prove if it has been). 

If you are an 'employee' then you gain extra rights, but you may have to work for a qualifying period.  

This means the rights do not start on your first day of your job, but only after you have had the same employer for a period of time.  

This section sets out the extra rights employees enjoy and how long you have to wait for them. You also have all the workers' rights from day one

Rights when you apply for a job 

  • You should not be discriminated against in a job selection process on the grounds of your trade union membership or your union activities, such as campaigning for union recognition in a previous role, sex (including pregnancy/ maternity status), race (including nationality), disability, age, sexual orientation, religion/ belief (including lack thereof), being married or in a civil partnership, or being transgender. 

  • If you have a disability, you have the right to ask for reasonable adjustments to the recruitment process. 

  • You have the right not to be asked questions about your health or previous sickness record, with a few narrow exceptions.  

  • You have the right not to disclose a spent conviction, unless you are applying for a job in certain specific sectors, including working with young people and vulnerable adults. 

Rights from your first day at work 

There is a legal contract in place as soon as you agree to work in return for wages, even if it is not written down.  

  • Like all workers, you must be given a document called a written statement of employment particulars on or before your first day on the job. Although this is not your employment contract, it is good evidence of your contract. 

  • You should also get a copy of (or easy access to) your employer’s discipline and grievance procedure. Strictly speaking, your employer does not have to give you this for two months, but good employers will give it to you as soon as you start work, so you know what the rules are.  

  • You have the right to receive an itemised payslip listing gross wages, deductions and net wages. If your pay varies depending on your hours, your payslip must also show the number of hours you have worked.  

  • You have a right not to have deductions (with some exceptions such as for tax) made from your pay, unless your employer has the contractual power to make the deductions in your employment contract and you have agreed to them in advance. 

  • You have all the rights (and obligations) in your contract of employment, such as to wages, hours and holidays. Your contractual rights cannot be worse than your statutory rights (for example, your pay cannot be lower than the National Minimum Wage for your age).  

  • You also have important implied contractual rights, such as the right to mutual ‘trust and confidence’.  

  • You have the right to a safe workplace and to protection of your health, safety and welfare at work. 

  • You have the right not to attend work (and to withdraw from your workplace) in circumstances of serious and imminent danger to your health and safety. You should only take this step after taking advice from Citizens Advice or your union.   

  • You have the right to a paid maternity suspension if you are pregnant, a new mother, or breastfeeding if your work threatens your safety or that of your child and there is no other suitable job for you. 

  • If you are paying National Insurance contributions, you can claim Statutory Sick Pay after you have been off sick for four days in a row. The SSP rules have been modified temporarily during the coronavirus pandemic. You can find the most up-to-date position on the GOV.UK website. 

  • You have the right not to be discriminated against on the grounds of your trade union membership, sex, pregnancy and maternity, race (including nationality), disability, age, sexual orientation, religion/ belief (including lack thereof), marital or civil partnership status, or being transgender. 

  • You have the right to ask for reasonable adjustments if you have a disability. 
  • You have the right to equal pay with members of the opposite sex doing the same job, a similar job, or a job of equal value to your job. 

  • You have the right to a reasonable amount of unpaid time off for public duties, for example as a school governor. 

  • You are entitled to 52 weeks’ maternity leave, even if you were pregnant when you started the job.  

  • You have the right to 52 weeks’ adoption leave.  

  • You have the right to two weeks’ bereavement leave if you lose a child.  

  • You have the right to paid time off for medical appointments if you are pregnant. 

  • You can take unpaid time off to accompany a pregnant partner to two antenatal appointments. 

  • You have rights to time off, paid and unpaid, for adoption appointments. 

  • You can take unpaid time off to deal with unexpected emergencies involving family members or people who rely on you for their care. 

  • You have the right for your trade union to be recognised by the employer to negotiate your working conditions if at least 10% of the people in your department/ workplace are members of that union and the union can show that the majority of employees in that department/ workplace are likely to support it being formally recognised. 

  • You have the right to reasonable paid time off for duties and training as a union rep, safety rep or a union learning rep, in a workplace where a union is recognised. 

  • You have the right to reasonable unpaid time off as a union member to engage in union activities where a union is recognised. 

  • You have the right to take a trade union representative or fellow worker into a disciplinary or grievance hearing. 

  • You can claim wrongful dismissal if your employer sacks you without giving you the agreed notice. 

  • Although you need more service before you are able to claim general unfair dismissal, you can already complain about dismissal on certain grounds (e.g. dismissal for asking to take maternity, paternity or shared parental leave, or on the basis of a protected characteristic such as your race). 

  • If you are dismissed when pregnant or when taking maternity or adoption leave, you have the right to written reasons for your dismissal, whether or not you ask for them. 

  • You have a right not to be unfairly dismissed for your political views. 

Rights after a month 

  • You must be given one week's notice of dismissal (or more, if your contract entitles you to longer notice). 

  • You must be paid medical suspension pay if you are suspended on certain medical grounds, such as where there is a threat to health caused by exposure to lead, rubber, chemicals or radioactive substances. 

  • You must be paid statutory lay-off pay if you are laid off or put on "short-time working" (this is where you are paid less than half a week's pay, because there is less work to do). 

Rights after 26 weeks 

  • You have the right to ask to work flexibly  

  • You have the right to ask for time off to train if your employer has more than 250 employees. 

Some family-friendly rights depend on you having been employed for 26 weeks at the end of the 15th week before the due date (or matching date for adoption) or your baby. These include: 

  • the right to take shared parental leave; 

  • the right to take two weeks’ paternity leave; 

  • rights to statutory maternity, adoption, shared parental, paternity and bereavement pay. 

You can read about these in our separate section on family-friendly work.  

Rights after one year’s service  

Rights after two years' service 

  • Once you have been working for two full years, you can claim unfair dismissal in the employment tribunal

  • If your employer dismisses you just before you have worked the full two years needed to claim unfair dismissal, an employment tribunal will add to your service the statutory notice your employer should have given you (unless you were dismissed for gross misconduct). This is to stop employers deliberately cutting short your notice to prevent you from bringing a claim. 

  • You can claim statutory redundancy pay if you are dismissed due to redundancy. The amount of redundancy pay due depends on your age, your pay and your length of service. There is a statutory cap on the amount paid that normally changes every year. 

  • You have a right, on request, to written reasons for your dismissal. If you were dismissed (including redundancy) while you were pregnant or on maternity or adoption leave, you have this right from day one of your employment, whether or not you make a request. 

The time limits for bringing claims in the employment tribunal are very short and very strict. 

Before bringing a tribunal claim, you must fill out an Early Conciliation Notification Form and send it to Acas

You can find information from Acas explaining how Acas early conciliation works. Acas early conciliation is free of charge. 

Unless you take this first step within the time limit for bringing your tribunal claim, you will not be allowed to bring it. 

There is no fee to access an employment tribunal, as of July 2017, when a union-backed case at the Supreme Court ruled that charging for access to tribunals was unlawful.  

If you have difficulty following the process, you should seek help by, for example, contacting your union or making an appointment as soon as possible at your local Citizens Advice. Don't leave it to the last minute. Make sure you allow enough time to make your application to the tribunal within the time limit. 

For more information about the steps involved in bringing a tribunal claim, including information about Acas Early Conciliation, see our Enforcing Your Rights section. 

Agency workers also have a set of specific rights, along with the rights available to all workers. You can read about these in our separate section on the rights of agency workers