Employment Law: Know your rights

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This article aims to educate and impart knowledge in relation to employment law. If you are employed it is important that you know your rights. Many employees can forgo rights they are entitled to simply because they are unaware of them. This article does not intend to provide a comprehensive list of rights available, but simply highlight a few which can be overlooked. Things you should be aware of:

  • Are you being paid the minimum wage? The minimum wage is currently £6.19 per hour. This rises to £6.31 from the 1st October 2013. E.g. You receive an annual salary of £15,000; You work 47 hours a week. This is equivalent to being paid £6.14 per hour which is below the minimum wage. Your employer is breaking the law and you are entitled to recover the difference for however long this has been going on.
  • Statement of particulars: Did you receive a statement of written particulars within the first two months of your employment beginning? If not you employer has broken the law. Although this cannot be directly enforced on its own, it can be enforced alongside a claim for something else.
  • Employment contract: You can be employed by way of an employment contract even if you do not have a written contract. In theory it is best practice to have a written contract of employment and you should always try to obtain one. However, if you don’t have one it does not mean you don’t have rights and it does not mean you are not employed.
  • Working time: If you are employed full time you are entitled to 28 days paid annual leave per year (including bank holidays); you are also entitled to certain specific daily and weekly rest breaks.
  • If you are having a child, or have had a child you are entitled to certain period of time off. If you’re having a child you can take Maternity Leave/ Paternity Leave or Adoption Leave. If you have had a child and have returned to work in certain circumstances you can take additional time off known as Parental Leave or Time of for Dependants. In addition you have the right to request flexible working time from your employer.
  • Privacy in the workplace: This is an area which is forever developing. Did you know your employer can monitor your phone calls, e-mails, your movements and pretty much everything you do at work. In most circumstances private phone calls and emails will be a breach of your terms of employment. You must be careful and not do this, even if other people may be doing so, and even if your employer seems to allow it. Unfortunately in many cases your employer will have a policy on this which states it is not allowed; at some point you will have been asked to read and sign this policy to say you have understood it. If you then make private calls/and or emails at work they will be logged. Your employer will be able to use them against you at any time they choose.
  • Dismissal and notice: You are entitled to statutory minimum notice periods despite what your contract may or may not say. Let’s say for example your contract says you are entitled to 4 week’s notice. If you have worked at that company for 10 years, you are actually entitled to a statutory minimum notice period of 10 weeks.
  • Constructive dismissal. This is not a standalone type of dismissal however it is an area where people may not be aware of their rights and what to do if this occurs. Basically there are two types of dismissal: Wrongful dismissal or unfair dismissal. Constructive dismissal can be categorised as a wrongful dismissal as it is based upon a contractual breach. Let’s say for example your employer changes a term of your contract, effectively breaching it. Let’s say they reduce your wages by 25% to which you don’t agree, this would be classed as a fundamental breach going to the heart of the contract. What should you do? Resign immediately. Many people wait and this allows employers to effectively get away with it. In order to satisfy a claim founded upon a constructive dismissal three elements must be established: 1. The employer must have fundamentally breached the contract. 2.The employee must resign as a result of the breach. 3. The employee must not waive the breach. If you wait and do not resign immediately you may be deemed to have waived the breach and as a result your claim will not succeed.
  • If you think you have been unfairly dismissed: Seek legal advice but be prompt. The time limits for bringing a claim are strict and claims for unfair dismissal must be brought within 3 months of your effective date of dismissal. This may not actually be the day you are dismissed and you should seek advice regarding this. All unfair dismissal claims must be heard in the Employment Tribunal. However, please note certain claims such as wrongful dismissal can be heard by the County Court or High Court. The time limit for these are 6 years and not 3 months so make sure you always check. Many people think they are too late as the three months have elapsed but in actual fact they have a claim which can be heard outside the Employment Tribunal and can be brought within 6 years.
  • When can you bring a claim: In order to bring an unfair dismissal claim you need to have been employed for two years if you started work after April 2012. If you started work Before April 2012 the time period is only one year. There are certain situations which are exempt from these time limits so always seek advice and do not be put off as you may have a case that can still be heard even if you think you may not qualify.

Finally please note if you are thinking about claiming, or you are about to make a claim, please lodge it now. I.e. today. It is currently free to make a claim against your employer by way of filling out and sending of an ET1 form. This is changing and from the 29th July fees are being introduced. There are two bands of fees depending on the type of case you are bringing. For a Level 1 claim, the employee will have to pay an Issue Fee of £160 to begin the claim and then a further £230 if the case proceeds to a Tribunal hearing. Level 2 claims will require an Issue Fee of £250 and a Hearing Fee of £950. This is an obvious curtailment of access to justice and this fee introduction is being challenged by Judicial Review, unfortunately for now the fees will stand and it is therefore important to lodge any claims before July 29th. In conclusion, employment law is a fast changing area and it is important that not only do you know your rights, but you keep updated as to changes of your rights. Hopefully this article has pointed out rights you may not have been aware of and has educated you to some degree. Please note, this should not be used as a substitute for professional legal advice. If you find yourself in a situation where you are not sure of your rights it is always advisable to contact a solicitor or pro bono centre which can help further. BPP Law School offer pro bono telephone law advice which can be accessed by calling 0207 633 4534.  

22/07/2013

Dale Timson

LLB (Honours) Student & Aspiring Barrister

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