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Employment Law

Your employment rights and what to do if they are breached

We all like a good moan about our job now and again, but what if you are really being treated unacceptably at work? Fortunately this does not happen often, but understanding your legal rights will help you deal with it if it does.

These rights evolve over time - you have some from the first day of your job and gain others later.

Rights from the start of your employment

Your employer must pay you the National Minimum Wage and abide by the Working Time Regulations 1998. The NMW is rated by age - so if you are 21 or over then you get the highest rate regardless.

The WTR 1998 state that you cannot be made to work more than 48 hours a week on average, and you have to be given a rest break at certain intervals. It is possible for you to opt out of the maximum working week.

Your employer has a duty to protect your health and safety at work. The steps they have to take depend on what is considered reasonable in the circumstances, but some obvious ones include briefing you on the fire evacuation procedure and making sure a first aid kit is available.

Under the Equality Act 2010 your employer cannot discriminate against you (for example by paying your less or denying you a promotion) because of characteristics like your age, disability, race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation. This also applies to the recruitment process, so this right actually kicks in before you start work. However, it is obviously pretty difficult to prove you were unsuccessful in an interview due to discrimination. Unless your interviewer is really blatant!

Sometimes a dismissal is "automatically unfair". This includes when you are discriminated against, and this is unlawful regardless of how long you have worked for your employer.

And finally you have the right to 52 weeks' maternity leave from the beginning of your employment - even if you give birth in your first few days!

Rights you gain over time

Parenthood - Fathers only qualify for paternity leave after working for a somewhat convoluted "qualifying period" which is 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the week of the due date. Both mothers and father have to have worked for this period before becoming eligible for statutory maternity and paternity pay.

Redundancy Pay - Once you have worked for two years you are entitled to be paid a certain amount if you are made redundant. This depends on your term of service and your pay.

Unfair Dismissal - It becomes unlawful for your employer to dismiss you unfairly (without a suitable disciplinary process or good reason) once you have worked for them for two years (one year where you started before April 2012). At this stage you also get legal protection from constructive dismissal, which is when your employer acts inappropriately and this forces you into resigning.

Most retailers want to comply with the law and provide a working environment that attracts and retains good staff. So if you have a concern about your employment rights, a quiet chat with HR or your manager should hopefully be enough to sort it out. It is crucial to undertake the correct process without leaping to legal action.

But, unfortunately, there are instances in which employers are unreasonable and are denying you your basic rights. If so, you need to submit a formal complaint (a "grievance") to your employer. As a final resort you can take court action via the Employment Tribunal to enforce your rights or get compensation, but in this case you should always consult employment lawyers.

If you'd like to learn more about your employment rights or feel your work rights aren't being treated within the law, you can head over to the Retail Appointment's Point Of Law section to read more:


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