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Enforcing your rights

We all have rights at work, which are guaranteed by law. If your rights aren’t being respected, there are ways you can take action.

Fixing a problem at work can be as simple as having a chat with your line manager, or as complex as taking legal action against your employer.

As a first step, try to figure out why your employer is not respecting your rights.

It may be that they don’t know the law themselves, and don’t understand that their behaviour is unacceptable. In that case, informally flagging the problem will often be the best option.

But in other cases, employers know they’re breaking the law and hope to get away with it. Then a more formal approach may be required.

If there’s any chance you’ll need to take legal action, you should act quickly, as the deadlines for employment tribunals are very short.

This page offers basic information on what to do if you think your rights aren’t being respected. But it shouldn’t be taken as legal or financial advice. The law is complex and every case is different. Before taking any action, you should seek individual advice from your union or a qualified adviser.

Getting advice

In any workplace dispute, it’s a good idea to seek advice. Depending on the situation, you may look to co-workers, friends, a manager, a legal adviser of your trade union.

Becoming a union member is the best way of ensuring you can get advice on your rights at work whenever you need.

Unions have years of experience negotiating for working people’s rights, and can help with big and small workplace issues. If you’re not a member of a union, use our Union Finder tool to find which one is the best fit for you.

Non-union members can get in touch with advice agencies (e.g. Acas, Citizens Advice) or consult a solicitor. But remember that getting legal help can be very expensive.

Informal routes

Very often, an informal discussion with your manager or supervisor is the best way of resolving differences in a way that both sides are happy with.

And while problems at work can be very isolating, you may find that other people are facing the same challenges. If so, consider joining together – through the union if you have one – and trying to reach agreement with your employers on how to improve the workplace for everyone.

Formal routes

If an informal approach doesn’t work, or if your complaint is very serious, you might choose to use your employer’s formal grievance procedure, the details of which should be in your contract of employment or employee handbook.

If your employer doesn’t have a policy of their own, there’s a minimum statutory procedure that should be followed.

In any grievance procedure, you have the right to be accompanied by a union rep or a colleague.

Legal routes

If you haven’t been able to resolve an issue in the workplace, it may be worth using the law. But you should absolutely take advice before taking any legal action.

There are several different courts and tribunals that can deal with work-related cases. Each one also has an appeal route. They are:

There are also legally-prescribed alternatives to the courts or tribunals, which may suit better in some situations. For example, some disputes can more easily be resolved through mediation through the employment advisory service Acas.

Employment tribunals are the most common way of dealing with work-related legal claims, including claims for unpaid wages, holiday pay or redundancy pay, or unfair dismissal.

Up to three people can sit on an employment tribunal: an employment judge, an employee representative and an employer representative. But in discrimination cases, three judges must sit on the panel.

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

Tribunal wins can establish legal principles, and so have the potential to benefit thousands of workers. But taking on a tribunal case can be difficult, stressful and costly – particularly if you don’t have union support.  


How should I raise an issue with my employer?

How can I go about getting my employer to grant me my rights?

How can a union help?

What legal routes are open to me?

What is an employment tribunal?

How do I make a claim to an employment tribunal?

Where can I get more information or advice?

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