A guide to employee rights in the UK

When an employer decides to legally and compliantly employ an internationally remote employee, one of the first things they need to come to terms with are the local employee rights. Below is a guide to employee rights in the UK, a second in a series that aims to help you understand employment legislation around the world (read about employee rights in Ireland and Portugal).

If you employ remote workers based in the United Kingdom, you will need to comply with those rules, regardless of where in the world you are based. The first step you will need to take before you can employ anyone there is to set up as an employer in the country or alternatively work with an Employer of Record, such as Boundless, which will act as the legal employer of your employee. An Employer of Record will ensure compliance with employment law, process payroll, register for taxes, and file them on behalf of your employees every month.

General rights

Written employment contract

Every employee in the UK has the right to a comprehensive written employment contract, which covers a lot of the subjects that are included in British employment law. The contract must be provided before work commences and must include the terms and conditions of the employment, as well as work hours, duties, benefits, wages, pension schemes, sick pay, absence and holiday pay, leave, notice period, training, disciplinary and grievance procedures. 

Employers can include other items in the contract, which are important and relevant to their business, such as confidentiality provisions and restrictions.  

Flexible Working

A fundamental employee right in the UK is flexible working after they have worked for the same employer for 26 weeks. Flexible working includes job sharing, working from home, part-time, flex time and compressed hours, staggered hours, and annualised hours. 

After the request has been made, employers have three months to review it. In that time, they can assess the advantages and disadvantages of the employee working flexibly, have ongoing discussions and offer an appeal process. An employer can refuse the request if they have a good business reason to do so.

all employees in the UK can request flexible working

Health & Safety

Employees in the UK have the right to a safe workplace, and it falls to their employers to take care of their health and safety while at work. Employers have to provide and maintain a safe place of work, a secure system of work, and safe-to-use equipment.

Employers are liable for negligent acts of their employees during their employment. They could also be responsible for specific occupational ailments if they are considered to have been aware of potential risks.

To ensure all of the above, the employer should:

  • Provide a safe working environment that has adequate facilities and arrangements for welfare at work
  • Provide and maintain systems that are safe to use and do not pose any risks to employees’ health.
  • Provide the necessary information, instruction, training and supervision to employees about their health and safety at work.
  • If employing more than five employees, the employer must have a health and safety policy statement and must make arrangements for carrying out the policy. 
employee right in the UK about a safe workplace

Further to this, employees are legally entitled to request an eye test if they feel the need for glasses and should be reimbursed for any costs incurred.

Employers carry the same responsibility to employees working remotely as they do to office-based workers. They have to make sure that remote employees have an adequate workspace with proper lighting levels, ventilation, room temperature, noise levels. The workstation should include a table, chair, laptop and a free, clean, safe space that meets the Safety & Health Regulations. Employers need to make sure employees’s setup includes:

  • Screens that are raised to meet the eye level and are positioned where lighting won’t cause reflections or glare on the screen 
  • Chairs that are adjusted so arms are at the right angle and the lower back is well supported 
  • A separate keyboard and mouse are provided to employees and separated from the laptop so the worker can position them correctly and comfortably. 

While ergonomic consultations are not currently statutory, great UK employers provide this as a benefit to employees. You can see all statutory and voluntary benefits in the UK in this handy infographic.

Employers should mandate that their employees take short breaks during the day to avoid prolonged static postures. They should advise them to stretch and change their position regularly to help reduce tiredness and prevent pains in the body. Alongside those, employers should ensure adequate contact and communication with remote employees. 

remote employees have the same rights as office employees about their workspace

All of the above should be laid out in a work-from-home policy, which is accessible to everyone.

Protections

Protection from discrimination

Employees in the UK are protected from workplace discrimination by the Equality Act 2010, which extends to dismissal, employment conditions, remuneration, career advancement and recruitment. This means that employers cannot fail to hire someone, select them for redundancy or pay them less than another employee based on gender, age or religion. 

The Equality Act prohibits discrimination, harassment and victimisation based on age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage & civil partnership, pregnancy & maternity, race, religion & belief, sex and sexual orientation. Types of discrimination include direct or indirect harassment, victimisation and failure to make reasonable adjustments.

Whistleblower Protection

Whistleblowers in the UK who decide to disclose certain information are protected by the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 (PIDA). It gives them the right not to be penalised or dismissed because they made that disclosure, granted that they have a reasonable belief that the disclosure was made in the public interest.

A worker who is penalised in such circumstances can bring a claim for compensation regardless of the length of service. If an Employment Tribunal finds that an employee was dismissed because they made a protected disclosure, the dismissal will be deemed unfair, and the employer will need to compensate the worker.

protection agains workplace discrimination

Protection Against Dismissal

Employees who have been continuously employed by an employer for two years or more have a right not to be unfairly dismissed. According to UK employment law, there are five statutory reasons for dismissal:

  • conduct
  • capability
  • redundancy
  • breach of a statutory restriction
  • some other substantial reason

Upon dismissal, the employer will have to prove that one of them applies and that they acted reasonably and fairly in treating the reason as sufficient to justify dismissal of the employee.

Personal Information protection

Even though the UK is planning to leave the EU, it still needs to comply with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). GDPR protects employees’ personal information, and employers must comply with it when processing their personal data. Under GDPR, employers must comply with the following principles when handling the personal data of employees:

  • Use personal data reasonably, lawfully and in a transparent manner
  • Process the data only for specific, explicit and legitimate purposes
  • Obtain data for lawful purposes and refrain from using it in a way, which is incompatible with those purposes
  • Ensure it is accurate, relevant, and up to date
  • Ensure it is not kept for longer than necessary
  • Ensure it is kept secure.

If a personal data breach occurs, the employer must inform the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) within 72 hours. If the risk for the wellbeing of the employee is high, they must also notify the individual concerned. Employees may lodge complaints to the ICO if they have concerns about an organisation’s information rights practices.

UK has the same GDPR responsibilities as other EU nations

Under GDPR legislation, employees have the right to:

  • Receive information about the collection and processing of their personal data
  • Access the personal data, and supplementary information held about them 
  • Have their personal data corrected if there are mistakes or inaccuracies
  • Have their personal data erased 
  • Restrict the handling or use of their data if they consider it is unlawful or the information is inaccurate
  • Challenge the use of their personal data for direct marketing, scientific or historical research.

Benefits

Pension

All employers in the UK have to provide a workplace pension scheme to employees, which comes on top of the state pension. While the employers cannot opt-out from providing it, employees can decide whether they want to join it or not. The only cases where an employer doesn’t need to enrol employees in a pension scheme are:

  • the employee is already enrolled in a programme that meets the automatic enrollment rules arranged by the employer 
  • the employee opted out of the pension arranged by the employer more than 12 months before the staging date
  • the employee is from another EU member state and is in an EU cross-border pension scheme.

After the employee has been enrolled into the workplace pension scheme, the employer must notify the employee about the date it commenced, the type of pension, which the provider is, and how to leave the scheme if they decide to do so. In addition, the employer should inform the employee how much they are contributing to the pension, how much the employee needs to participate, and how tax relief applies to them.

Since April 2019, employers’ minimum contribution is 3%, employees’ is 4%, and government tax relief is 1% for a total minimum contribution of 8%. 

As employees change jobs, they can join a different workplace pension scheme, carry on making contributions to their old existing scheme, or combine the old and new pension schemes.

Employers have to automatically re-enrol an employee in the scheme every three years if they have previously left it. To do this, employers need to send a written statement to the employee informing them of that. After an employee has been re-enrolled, they can leave again.

Redundancy Payment

Any employee who has been continuously employed for over two years has a right to receive a Statutory Redundancy Payment (SRP). They also have the right to receive a written statement setting out the amount of redundancy payment and how it was calculated. Redundancy pay is equal to:

  • half of a week’s pay for every full year that the employee was employed while 22 years of age or younger 
  • one week’s pay for each full year that the employee was between 22 and 41 years of age
  • one and a half week’s pay for each full year that the employee was 41 and older. 

The length of employment can be a maximum of 20 years, while the weekly pay is capped at £525. As for the maximum amount of statutory redundancy pay, it cannot be more than £15,750.

employee rights about labour unions

Job Security

Work Unions

All employees in the UK have legal rights when it comes to labour unions. They can join or decline to join a union, leave or remain with the union, belong to the union they choose and belong to more than one union. The employer is not allowed to offer the employee a benefit for leaving the union, mistreat an employee if they don’t leave a union, force an employee to join or leave one union over another. If employees believe that they’re being mistreated because of the work union membership, they can bring the issue to an Employment Tribunal.

Want to employ someone in the UK?

Adhering to employment law and employee rights in the UK will require a commitment to learning a lot of local regulations. We will be publishing more articles that cover different aspects of employing someone in the UK, which will help you understand the intricacies. 

You probably need to focus on other things for the business and staying on top of British employment law may not be a top priority. That doesn’t mean you should give up on employing your next remote worker out of Great Britain or hiring them as an independent contractor (it’s a really bad idea). Boundless can help you to employ them the right way. We own and operate a British Professional Employer Organisation as part of our multi-country offering, and through the Employer of Record model can act as the legal employer to your remote workers and take care of the duties expressed in this article. Learn more


The making available of information to you on this site by Boundless shall not create a legal, confidential or other relationship between you and Boundless and does not constitute the provision of legal, tax, commercial or other professional advice by Boundless. You acknowledge and agree that any information on this site has not been prepared with your specific circumstances in mind, may not be suitable for use in your business, and does not constitute advice intended for reliance.  You assume all risk and liability that may result from any such reliance on the information and you should seek independent advice from a lawyer or tax professional in the relevant jurisdiction(s) before doing so.

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