Employment & Pay


If you’re working, it’s important to understand how your written or oral employment contract establishes the rights and responsibilities for both yourself and your employer. It’s important to know what might be included in your employment contract, how your employment status rights affect your employment status, and what to do if you have a complaint or there’s been a breach of contract.

What is your employment status?

Your rights at work depend a lot on whether you’re an employee, worker or self-employed. Finding out your status is the first step to finding out what you’re entitled to.

Your employment contract

If you’re working, you should have an employment contract, regardless of your employment status. While most employment contracts are in writing, they can also be verbal agreements.

Oral contracts have the same legal authority, but it can be much harder to prove what was agreed. Having a written contract give you more certainty over your status and can make it easier to resolve any disputes.

Even if you’re not given a written contract, you’re entitled to a written statement outlining your main employment terms. This should give you details of your:

  • job title
  • pay
  • hours of work
  • access to in-work benefits, such as sick pay and holiday entitlement
  • employment start date and notice periods.

Express terms

Express terms are parts of your contract specifically mentioned, either in writing or agreed orally, by both you and your employer.

These might include:

  • sick pay
  • redundancy pay
  • hours of work, including overtime hours
  • how much notice is needed to end the contract
  • how much you’ll be paid (including overtime and bonus pay)
  • holiday pay, as well as how much time you’re entitled to take off. Most full-time workers are entitled to 28 days, and part-time workers get the same amount, in proportion to the number of days or hours they work.

Express terms can be found in your work contract, but also:

  • the job advert
  • any letters you receive from your employer
  • documents you were asked to sign, such as a staff handbook or manual.

Make sure you keep copies of all documents your employer gives you. This makes it much easier if there’s a dispute about your contract.

Implied terms

Implied terms aren’t written down in a contract, but would be expected behaviour and can be included in most employee contracts.

For example, you won’t steal from your employer or you won’t give away confidential information.

Your employer must, in turn, provide a safe working environment and shouldn’t ask you to do anything illegal, such as drive an uninsured vehicle.

Terms might also be implied through custom and practice.

This is where arrangements have never clearly been agreed, but over time have become part of the contract. Examples of this might include finishing early on a Friday, or a Christmas bonus.

Unauthorised deductions from wages

If an employer is going to make deductions from your wages, they should be legally authorised. For example, tax and National Insurance – and put into your contract with a written explanation or agreed in writing before they’re made.

There are some exceptions, for example if you’ve been overpaid by mistake or haven’t worked because you have taken part in industrial action.

There is special protection for retail employees. This means it’s illegal for an employer to deduct more than 10% of their gross wages for cash shortages or stock shortfalls.

Changes to contracts

Your employer might want to change the terms of your contract, for example:

  • change your pay
  • change the work you do
  • change your place of work
  • cut or change the hours you work.

In theory, your employer can’t change the terms of your contract without your agreement. If you’re not sure how a change will affect you or whether to accept it, you can get free employment advice from these workplace advice services:

If you’re an employee, you have access to a wide range of in-work benefits, including:

  • National Minimum Wage
  • workplace pension
  • paid holiday
  • Statutory Sick Pay
  • Statutory Maternity, Paternity and Adoption Leave and Pay
  • Shared Parental Leave and Pay
  • Statutory Redundancy Pay
  • protection against unfair dismissal.

All these, plus any extra rights, should be clearly laid out in your employment contract. This is why it’s important to read it before signing.

Do you have any issues or queries about your contract, or think the terms of your contract have been broken? Then the first thing you should do is speak to your employer.

Employment rights if you’re self-employed

Self-employed people normally don’t have the legal right to in-work employee benefits.

However, if you’re in a position to negotiate with people contracting you to work, you might be able to include some of these rights in your contract.

You’ll still have protection for health and safety if you’re working on business premises. And, in some circumstances, you have protection against discrimination.

Do you have any issues with your self-employed contract, or treatment at work? Then the first thing you need to do is raise your concerns with your employer.

As you’re self-employed, you might not be a member of a trade union. However, there are unions, such as like Community, that are getting more involved in self-employed workers’ rights.

Employment rights if you’re on a zero-hours contract

Zero-hours contracts are becoming more common. They’re are offered in many sectors, including the care industry, hospitality sector, warehouse work and couriers.

Your contract should clearly state it’s zero-hours. And it will often state you must be ready for work when asked, and that the company is under no legal obligation to offer you work.

You’re classified as a worker, so are entitled to basic in-work benefits. This includes the National Minimum Wage and annual leave.

Do you have any issues with your treatment at work or the salary you’re receiving is below minimum wage? Then the first thing you need to do is speak to your employer.

Advice & Help

You might also be able to get advice, or more help if you cannot resolve the issue with your employer, from:

  • a solicitor
  • your trade union (if you’re a member)
  • Acas, in England, Scotland and Wales
  • The Labour Relations Agency, in Northern Ireland.

Acas offer free, confidential and impartial advice on all employment rights issues in England, Scotland and Wales. Call their helpline on 0300 123 1100 or visit the Acas website.

The Labour Relations Agency provides an impartial and confidential employment relations service in Northern Ireland. Call their helpline on 028 9032 1442 or visit the Labour Relations Agency website.

If you can’t sort out the problem, you could use an employment tribunal. This is called an industrial tribunal in Northern Ireland. There are no fees for going to an employment tribunal in the UK.

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