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Working in the UK - a guide to your rights

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Welcome to the TUC guide on your rights at work in the UK. The TUC is the national centre of trade unions in the UK – we represent more than 5 million workers.


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Trade unions bring workers together to defend rights at work, make sure workplaces are safe and bargain for better pay and conditions for their members. Find out how to join a union.


The rights you are entitled to at work will depend on the type of worker you are.

Find out what type of worker you are

What type of worker are you?

All workers with a right to work in the UK have employment rights.

If you are not a UK citizen, there may be conditions attached to your visa that restrict the hours or type of work you may be employed to do. See the Home Office website for more information. If your employer is threatening to report you to the Home Office for any reason, it is important you get advice from an immigration solicitor.

If you are a trade union member, check if your union has an arrangement with immigration lawyers who can provide advice.

Find a solicitor at the Law Society

Trade unions stand up for the rights of workers from all countries, regardless of their immigration status or race. Trade unions build solidarity between workers which stops employers dividing workers and driving down conditions. Find out how to join a union.

The rights you are entitled to at work will depend on your employment status .

There are generally three legal categories of workers in the UK: employeesworkers (such as casual or agency workers) and the self-employed. Click on the links below to find out more.

Note: it is important you speak to a union rep or a legal professional for advice on how to claim these rights – in a legal case, only an employment tribunal can determine employment status.


You are likely to be an employee if:

  • you are expected to attend work regularly
  • you expect your employer to provide you with regular hours or work
  • you expect to be paid for the work that you do
  • you are expected to carry out your work yourself (i.e. you would not be allowed to ask a friend or family member to do it for you)
  • you are not allowed to refuse to work or refuse to come to work
  • your employer is in charge of how, when and where you work
  • your employer pays taxes and National Insurance out of your wages
  • your employer provides your tools, equipment, facilities, uniform etc
  • you have a written contract of employment.

Note: If these facts do not apply to you, you might be ‘self-employed’ or a ‘worker’. You should ask for help from a trade union official if you are not sure about your employment status.

Rights for Employees

All employees have the right to:


You are likely to be a worker if:

  • your employer does not have to offer you regular or guaranteed hours
  • you do not have to accept any work or shifts that your employer offers
  • you have a contract it describes you as ‘casual’ or ‘as required’
  • you are expected to carry out your work yourself (i.e. you would not be allowed to ask a friend or family member to do it for you)
  • your employer pays taxes and National Insurance out of your wages
  • your employer provides your tools, equipment, facilities, uniform etc.

Note: If these facts do not apply to you, you might be ‘self-employed’ or an ‘employee’.  You should ask for help from a trade union official if you are not sure about your employment status.

Rights for workers

All workers have the right to:

On a zero-hours contract?

 If you are on a zero-hours contract you are likely to be entitled to workers’ rights.  But many zero-hours contract workers will also be ‘employees’.  It will depend on your personal working pattern.  It is always a good idea to check with your union which rights you may qualify for.

Agency Worker

Refer to Agency Workers page

Self-Employed Worker

You are likely to be self-employed if:

  • you pay your own tax and National Insurance
  • you can hire someone else to do your work for you
  • you provide your own tools and equipment
  • you provide invoices for your work rather than receiving a wage
  • you risk losing profits if there is a problem.

Bogus self-employed?

If you suspect you may be a ‘worker’ or ‘employee’ but are being treated as self-employed, you should seek immediate advice from a trade union official.

Rights for self-employed workers

There are some additional rights that apply to some self-employed workers which a union can help you to claim. To find the relevant union for your job please use the union finder tool


Once you have established what category of worker you are, find out what rights apply to you from the links below. 

Pay and guidance


Employees are entitled to a payslip each time they are paid. The payslip should say what they have been paid, what deductions have been made (e.g. tax, National Insurance and trade union subscriptions) and take-home pay.

Each year employers must give employees a P60 certificate which shows their gross pay for the year, take-home pay and the total deductions made from their pay during the year.

​​​National minimum wage

Workers and employees have the right to be paid no less than the national minimum wage, which is set by the government and reviewed every year by the Low Pay Commission (which includes trade unions and employers).

There are different rates for 16 to17-year-olds, 18 to 20-year-olds, 21-24 year olds, those aged 25 and above, and some apprentices. To find out the latest rate of the national minimum wage

If you think you are being paid under the national minimum wage contact the Pay and Rights at Work Helpline online or call 0300 123 1100. 

​​​​Deductions from pay

Your employer should not make any deductions from your pay unless:

  • The deduction is required by law (i.e. income tax and National Insurance).
  • The deduction is allowed under your contract (e.g. trade union subscriptions).
  • You have signed a written agreement authorising the deduction.
  • Your employer has overpaid you - you should seek advice from a trade union representative if this has happened.
  • You did not work because of a strike (your employer can only deduct wages for the day(s) that you didn’t work).
  • There are also special rules on pay deductions for shop workers where the employer believes that a worker may have stolen – talk to a trade union official for guidance.
  • If your employer provides accommodation for you then they can pay you a slightly lower rate of the national minimum wage. This is called the accommodation offset:​.
  • There are also special rules on pay deductions for shop workers where the employer believes that a worker may have stolen – talk to a trade union official for guidance.
  • If you work in retail your employer can take a maximum of 10% of your weekly or monthly gross pay (your pay before tax and National Insurance). This is to cover any mistakes or shortfalls, for example with cash or stock. 
  • Your employer must let you know in writing if you owe them money. They must explain how they will claim it back before your next pay day.

Unlawful deductions from pay

  • No deductions can be made for protective equipment that you need to do your job safely. If you have any concerns about this you should contact the Health and Safety Executive.
  • If the wages received by a worker are less than the total amount of wages that are properly payable to them, then the amount of underpayment is considered an unfair deduction from wages

​​​​National Insurance and tax

Every worker in the UK has a National Insurance number. This is a personal number issued by the government that you need to work legally. It is used to keep track of social security contributions

You will also have to pay income tax on earnings above a certain threshold. Every worker in the UK has a tax code, which an employer uses to work out how much tax they should pay on your behalf. If you are starting your first job in the UK you will probably start to pay 'emergency tax' until you have been given a tax code.

If you do not have a National Insurance Number (NINO), or have been issued with a temporary one by your employer, then you should call 0845 6000643; or apply for National Insurance number.

If your employer offers to pay you only in cash without paying National Insurance or tax (known as “cash in hand”), you should talk to a trade union official as soon as possible. It is illegal to employ someone cash in hand. 

Sick pay

Your level of sick pay will depend on workplace policies, this may be different if you are off sick because of the coronavirus. See the government guidance, If your employer does not pay enhanced sick pay, you may be entitled to which is a flat-rate state benefit. It is payable by your employer from the forth day of sickness up to 28 weeks. You are entitled to SSP as long as you have paid enough National Insurance contributions.

You may be able to claim Income Support or Employment and Support Allowance. Find out more

Rights for expecting or new parents

Rights for pregnant or breastfeeding women

All workers who are pregnant or on maternity leave have the right to not to be discriminated against because of pregnancy, for example, individuals must not be disciplined for pregnancy-related sickness absence.  The hirer of an agency worker must also not end an assignment because they find out a worker is pregnant.

An organisation that has pregnant workers or new mothers working in it must take steps to minimise the risk of harm to the workers or their babies. 

Maternity pay

Some workers may qualify for 39 weeks’ Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP). The first six weeks of SMP are paid at 90 percent of your normal earnings and the rest is paid at a flat rate .

If a worker does not qualify for SMP then they may be able to claim Maternity Allowance for up to 39 weeks. Maternity Allowance is paid at the flat rate for 39 weeks.

Additional rights for employees who are new or expectant mothers

There is a right to paid time off to attend ante-natal appointments.

The employer must take steps to protect the employee and their baby from harm in the workplace. If it is not possible to adjust their job or working conditions to minimise the risk of harm, then their employer must offer them suitable alternative work on terms and conditions that are not less favourable.  If it is not possible to find them suitable alternative work, the employer must suspend the employee from work and they are entitled to be paid during the suspension.

There is a right to up to 52 weeks’ maternity leave (the first two weeks of maternity leave are compulsory). Employees must not suffer any detriment or be discriminated against for seeking to take or for taking maternity leave.

If employees take 26 weeks or less maternity leave they have the right to return to the same job. If they take more than 26 weeks’ leave they have the right to return to the same job but if that is not possible then they have the right to return to a suitable alternative job on similar terms and conditions.

Mothers can convert up to 50 weeks of their maternity leave into Shared Parental Leave if they and the father/her partner are eligible. Find out more about Shared Parental Leave

If employees are adopting a child and they are expected to be the primary carer they will have similar rights to leave and pay in the first year,  More information on adoption pay and leave.

Paternity leave rights for employees

As a new or expectant father, or as the mother’s partner who is expected to be responsible for the upbringing of the child, employees have the following rights:

They have the right to unpaid time off to attend up to two ante-natal appointments.

They have up to two weeks’ paternity leave to be taken around the time of the birth if they have been employed by their employer for at least 26 weeks by the fifteenth week before the expected week of childbirth.

They have up to two weeks’ statutory paternity pay if they qualify for paternity leave and they have earned more than the lower earnings limit.

They may be able to take more leave to care for the child in the first year if they and the mother are eligible for Shared Parental Leave (SPL). This allows a mother to convert up to 50 weeks of her maternity leave into SPL which either partner can use in the first year.

If employees are adopting a child with their partner, they will have similar rights to leave and pay. Find out more about adoption pay and leave 

Parental leave, flexible working and time off

As a working parent or carer, employees have the following rights to balance paid work with family or caring responsibilities:

Parents who are employees and have more than a year’s service with their employer have the right to take parental leave to care for a child. This leave is unpaid and can be taken in blocks of one week. Parents can take a maximum of 18 weeks’ leave for each child. A maximum of four weeks leave a year can be taken. The leave can be used up to the child’s 18th birthday.

Employees with more than 26 weeks’ service have the right to ask their employer for flexible working.

trade union official will be able to offer guidance on claiming these rights at work. 

Hours of work and holidays

Working week

Employees and workers have the right not to work more than 48 hours a week on average. This is calculated over a 17-week period. They may sign a clause in their contract giving up their right to work a maximum of 48 hours a week, but they may not be pressured into giving up this right. If they change their mind and want to enforce their right to do no more than 48 hours a week they can do so by informing their employer that they no longer wish to opt out of their working time rights, although they may have to wait a few weeks for it to take effect. A trade union official will be able to provide guidance.

Night work

Employees or workers employed on night shifts should not work more than eight hours at night every 24-hours. This is calculated by working out an average over a 17-week period, or the contract period if it is shorter than this.

Example: an agency worker employed for one month should not work more than an average of 48 hours night work a week over a 4 week period.

Workers must be offered a free health assessment before becoming night workers by their employer and on a regular basis after this.

Rest breaks

Employees and workers have the right to a rest break of 20 minutes where the working day is longer than six hours. If workers are under 18 they are entitled to a 30-minute break after working four and a half hours. Employees and workers are entitled to 11 uninterrupted hours away from work during every 24-hour period of work. Find out more information on working hours.

​​Holiday (annual leave)

Employees and workers should receive a legal minimum of four weeks’ paid leave per annum plus eight days of ‘bank holidays’ (national holidays). In some workplaces employers allow all staff to take bank holidays off, but in other workplaces staff can take time off instead of bank holidays. You should check your contract of employment, your staff handbook or talk to your trade union representative to find out if what you are entitled to. 

Health and safety rights at work

The organisation you are working for has a duty to provide you with a safe and healthy working environment. This should include training you about the health and safety issues in your workplace. There are many special rules that will apply in any workplace where there are particular risks to workers. You should check whether your workplace has a trade union health and safety representative.

For more information on your health and safety rights see the Health and Safety Executive website.

Dealing with problems at work


If you believe that you are being treated unfairly at work, for example you think you are being discriminated against by your employer or you don’t have appropriate working conditions, speak to a trade union representative. Together, you should try to raise the matter informally either with your line manager, or a more senior manager if that is not possible. 

But if that does not work, or is not appropriate, you should follow your employer’s formal grievance procedure. This may involve writing to your employer explaining what makes you think you are being treated unfairly and your employer should organise a meeting to discuss your grievance. You have the right to be accompanied by a trade union official at the meeting.

If you are not satisfied with the outcome you may wish to ask for an appeal meeting. Again, you have the right to be accompanied by a trade union official. If a worker’s chosen companion will not be available at the time proposed for the hearing by the employer, the employer must postpone the hearing to a time proposed by the worker provided that the alternative time is both reasonable and not more than five working days after the date originally proposed.

Note: Many employers do not allow workers or self-employed workers to use grievance procedures. Talk to a trade union official for advice. 

Disciplinary action 

If you are an employee and your employer decides to take disciplinary action against you, you should seek advice from a trade union official on your case and consult the disciplinary procedure in your contract.

As a minimum, a disciplinary procedure should work as follows:

  • Your employer should carry out an investigation if they suspect that you are underperforming or you have acted improperly to see if there is a case against you. Your employer may ask you to attend an investigatory meeting. While you don’t have the right to be accompanied to an investigatory meeting, you should ask anyway as a good employer should allow it.
  • Your employer should then formally notify you in writing if they think there is a case against you. Your employer should invite you to a meeting, tell you that you have the right to be accompanied by a trade union official, and send you the evidence that they intend to use against you.
  • Your employer should then hold a face-to-face meeting with you to discuss the matter. You have the right to be accompanied at this meeting, and you should inform your employer that you wish to be accompanied. After the meeting your employer should inform you of their decision and of your right to appeal against the decision. 

If you have been an employee for at least two years, your employer can only lawfully dismiss you if they can show that it was because of your ability to do your job. It is unlawful to be dismissed on the grounds of:

  • trade union membership or activities
  • health and safety
  • exercising your employment rights
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • discrimination.

Your employer must follow a fair procedure for dismissal. If they fail to do so, you may bring a claim against your employer for unfair dismissal. Talk to a trade union official for further advice.

Discrimination and harassment at work​

If you believe you are being bullied, harassed or discriminated against at work you should contact a trade union.

You have the right not to be discriminated against because of your race, gender, nationality, religion or belief, sexual orientation, pregnancy, maternity, age, or disability (known as the ‘protected characteristics’). You should also speak to a union if you believe you are being discriminated against because of your immigration status.

If you are disabled, you are entitled to extra support. An employer has a duty to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to things like premises, equipment and working hours so that you are not put at a disadvantage when compared to non-disabled workers. This duty only applies if the employer knows you are disabled.

It is also unlawful to discriminate against you if you are on a fixed-term contract or you are a part-time worker.

Discrimination may include being paid less or being given worse terms and conditions than other workers or not being given a particular job.

If someone at work behaves towards you in a way that you don’t want, and their behaviour is hostile, intimidating, humiliating or offensive, including unwanted sexual attention, this is known as ‘harassment’. Harassment is unlawful if it relates to any of the protected characteristics.

It is also unlawful to victimise you for raising a complaint about discrimination or for helping a co-worker with a complaint.

You should write down all incidents of bullying, harassment or discrimination and keep any other related evidence, as you will need this if you have to make a formal complaint. A trade union can advise you how to make a formal complaint.

Taking a case to an employment tribunal 

If you have a problem at work, a trade union should be able to help resolve it. They may also help you take your case to an employment tribunal. Employment tribunals are a special kind of court that deal with employment issues. If the court finds in your favour, it might tell your employer to pay you compensation.

It is essential to get advice on taking a case to the tribunal from your trade union or from the ACAS helpline on 0300 123 1100. You must notify ACAS before you can take a case to the employment tribunal. ’ They will offer a free ‘Early Conciliation’ service to advise you.

Most claims must be made within three calendar months of the issue taking place.

Agency workers

Rights for agency workers​​

Agency workers are entitled to the same rights as other ‘workers’.

Agency workers on ‘pay between assignment’ contracts, have the same rights as ‘employees’.

In addition, agency workers have the right to a written statement of terms and conditions before they start any work.

An agency may not:

  • charge the worker a fee simply for finding them work or putting them on their books
  • insist a worker buy other products or services such as CV writing, training, or personal protective equipment as a condition of using their work-finding services
  • withhold a workers’ pay simply because they have not received payment from the organisation you worked at, or because you cannot produce a signed time sheet. It is the agency’s responsibility to establish the hours that the worker actually worked.

See the TUC’s agency workers guide [PDF] for more information.

Accidents at work

​​Agencies have a duty to find out about any health and safety risks in the workplace known to the organisation that is hiring an agency worker and the steps taken to prevent or control those risks. They should check that the organisation has carried out a thorough health and safety risk assessment and ensure that workers are made aware of the situation before placing them in an organisation.

Equal treatment

​​From the first day of work for a hirer agency, workers have rights to:

  • access to the same facilities as permanent staff
  • the same opportunities to apply for internal vacancies as permanent staff. 

Once agency workers have worked in the same role at an organisation for 12 weeks they have the right to:

  • be paid at the same rate as permanent staff (unless you are on a ‘pay between assignments’ contract, see below)
  • the same holiday rights as permanent staff 
  • the same working time entitlements as permanent staff. 
Find a union for you

More than 5.5 million people are in a union – from nurses to checkout assistants to lorry drivers to airline pilots. Unions help workers get together, stop people being treated unfairly and get a better deal from their employers.

Isn’t it time you joined a union?

Things to note:

- You have a legal right to join a union.It’s illegal for an employer to disadvantage you because you are a union member.
- Some unions may have restrictions on who can join.  This is usually because they represent people in specialist jobs.
- Generally unions can’t help people with a problem that happened before they joined the union.

Find the right union for you now

Useful contacts

Join a union

A trade union will support you to deal with problems you are having at work, help you to come together with other workers to bargain with your employer to secure better pay and treatment and provide you with legal support in grievance and disciplinary processes. To find out which union you can join, go to:

Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas)

Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS)

ACAS is a public body that promotes good workplace relations. Its national helpline offers advice on the national minimum wage, employment agencies, working time, agricultural workers’ rights and working for a gangmaster. It offers a translation service in over 100 languages.

T: 0300 123 1100 open from 8am—8pm Monday–Friday and 9am—1pm on Saturday or

Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)

The EHRC is an independent body established to help eliminate discrimination, reduce inequality and protect human rights.

Citizens Advice

Citizens Advice offers free, confidential advice on debt and consumer issues, benefits, housing, legal matters, employment, and immigration online and in their local offices.

Health and Safety Executive

The Health and Safety Executive is a government body that provides advice and information on health and safety issues.

T: 0300 003 1747 (8.30am—5pm)

Maternity Action

Maternity Action is a charity working to promote the rights of pregnant women and tackle discrimination. It has information on maternity rights in a number of different languages:

This content is provided as general background information and should not be taken as legal advice or financial advice for your particular situation. Make sure to get individual advice on your case from your union, a source on our free help page or an independent financial advisor before taking any action. Given the changing nature of employment law, we cannot guarantee that the information on these pages is up to date. Seeking advice from independent, up to date sources is essential!

If you think you are losing out, or your employer is breaking the law, you should seek further advice. Acas website

The TUC is grateful to the following partners who provided support and assistance in the production of this guide: CGIL (Italy) CGT (France); CGTP (Portugal); CITUB (Bulgaria) and the Embassy of Spain (UK).

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