Employment Rights and Responsibilities

It is important that every employee understands his or her rights and responsibilities in the workplace. There are many laws which protect the safety, well-being and rights of employees at work and it is important that employees understand their rights and responsibilities relating to them. However, you do not need to know each law in detail!

RIGHTS are what are due to you according to the law.

RESPONSIBILITIES in law are actions that you must do.

In your workplace, there will be procedures and policies based on these laws, and it is your responsibility to follow those procedures.

There are three types of employment status, which indicate a person’s rights and responsibilities at work – ‘worker’, ‘employee’ or ‘self-employed’.
Employment Rights and Responsibilities will differ according to the employment status and can be separated into 3 main categories:

  1. Workplace Regulations: laws that keep everyone safe and reduce hazards and manage risks.
  2. Employment Conditions: outlines the duties, rights and responsibilities of employers and employees.
  3. Equal and Fair Treatment: ensuring that people have equal access to opportunities and that the diversity of the workforce is valued.
Workplace Regulations

Health and Safety

Employers have legal obligations to ensure a safe and healthy workplace. As an employee, you have rights, and you have responsibilities for your own wellbeing and that of your colleagues. Your rights as an employee to work in a safe and healthy environment are given to you by law, and generally can’t be changed or removed by your employer.

Confidentiality and Data Protection

Modern computer technology makes it possible for organisations to hold large amounts of information about people. This Act, which came into force in 2000, protects the personal information that organisations hold about people, whether that is in paper records or on computers. Under the Act, everyone has the right to see what information is held about them by any organisation, to correct it if necessary, and to know how it is being used. A request to see information must be made in writing and there may be a charge.

Employment Conditions

The Employment Rights Act 1996 is a large and complicated law that covers many of the rights and responsibilities of employers and employees, including:

  • Contracts of Employment
  • Right to an itemised pay statement and not to suffer unauthorised deductions
  • Right to time off work
  • Right to time off work for sickness
  • Parental Rights
  • Termination of employment
  • Unfair Dismissal
  • Redundancy Rights

Contracts of Employment

Employment contracts are legally binding and protect both the employer and employee’s rights and responsibilities.
The legal parts of a contract are known as ‘terms’. The terms of an employment contract set out what the employee and employer can expect of each other. If there’s anything in your contract that you’re unsure about, or which is confusing, ask your employer to explain it to you. It is important that you know what a legally binding part of a contract is and what is not.


Workers are entitled to be paid at least the level of the statutory National Minimum Wage (NMW) for every hour they work for an employer. The most up to date rates including rates for apprentices are available here.

The Equal Pay Act gives you the right to the same pay, benefits and conditions of employment as someone of the opposite sex where you are both doing the same or similar work.

Working Hours

The Working Time Regulations set out the rights of employees to adequate breaks, paid annual leave and minimum/maximum hours. These differ for young workers who are over the minimum school leaving age but are under the age of 18. Young workers also have the right to paid time off work to study or train for approved qualifications to achieve a level 2 qualification for the first time.

Part-time workers also have the right to be treated less favourably than comparable full-time workers unless the difference in treatment is objectively justifiable.

Equal and Fair Treatment

Maternity, paternity and parental leave

All pregnant employees are entitled to take up to one year’s (52 weeks) maternity leave, regardless of length of service with the employer, but only 39 weeks are paid for. Employers cannot automatically dismiss a woman because she is pregnant. Optional ‘keeping in touch’ days have been introduced enabling women to work for up to 10 days during the maternity leave period. ‘Keeping in touch’ days are paid and must be agreed by the employer. All women have a right to return to work after maternity leave, regardless of the size of the employer.

New fathers can take either one week or two consecutive weeks’ paid Ordinary Paternity Leave. All paternity leave allowance must be taken in one block.Ordinary Paternity Leave can be taken by both biological and adoptive parents and includes both heterosexual and same-sex couples.

The Additional Paternity Leave Regulations (2010) entitle employees who are fathers, partners of mothers, or adopters, to take up to 26 weeks’ paternity leave in the first year of the child’s life or its placement for adoption. This legislation applies equally to both heterosexual and same-sex couples.

The first two weeks of leave must be taken by the mother, to allow time for recovery. After this period the option to end maternity leave is available and parents can opt to share the remaining leave entitlement.

Parental leave is a right for parents to take unpaid time off work to look after a child or make arrangements for the child’s welfare. Parents can use it to spend more time with children and strike a better balance between their work and family commitments.

Employees may take a reasonable amount of unpaid leave to handle an emergency relating to someone who depends on them. An employer can’t penalise employees for this if the reasons for taking this leave are genuine. A dependent could include a husband, wife, partner, child, parent, anyone living in an employee’s household as a member of their family, or someone who reasonably relies on them for help in an emergency.

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