Rights at Work
Where do we get the answers from?
At the end of the Guide, there is a list of the sources we have used for references. The information is up-to-date and available on the web sites named. During the guide, we will use numbers in brackets to refer to the sources in the list. The sources are also in the ‘Part-time Work’ reference section.
Who are the students referred to in the Guide?
They are the 1500 students who took part in our Part-time Jobs research project – see details in the Exam Aid zone.
Question 1: Can your employer sack you without giving a reason?
PROBLEM: Our research results say that 30% of students believe they can be sacked without a reason being given or are not sure about it.
Most students believe that reasons have to given, and they’re right (2), (4), (5). The difficulty arises when employers say that people are being made redundant because work is no longer available for them to do, or the workplace is moving or being reduced. If the employer maintains that what he’s doing is making people redundant, then different conditions will apply (2), (5).
Question 2: Can your employer force you to work whatever numbers of hours per week that he/she decides?
PROBLEM: One third of the students we questioned said that they were ‘told how many hours’ they have to work.
Doing demanding exam courses and jobs at the same time means that life is a lot easier if you can exercise control over your own hours. In the main, you can, and employers have to observe legislation over how many hours a week people can work, including special conditions which apply to 16 and 17 year olds (2), (6).
However, the rules give employers a lot of room for interpretation, and in
circumstances where you’re a member of a team working shifts or where the amount of work varies, it may be a condition of you taking on the job that you contribute equally to the shift team or you work when you’re most needed. Find out what’s required before you take the job on – it’ll pay you in the long term.
Question 3: Can your employer make you work unsocial hours (nights, weekends)?
PROBLEM: Nearly half of the students we questioned think employers can or are not sure about it.
As said above, there are regulations about working hours. But there are complications where unsocial hours are an inevitable part of the job, such as bar work and shift work which includes nights and weekends, and here regulations can be different (2). Again, it pays to find out exactly what the expectations are before you start doing the job.
Question 4: Do you know what the minimum wage is for people of your age?
PROBLEM: 4 out of every 10 of the students we questioned didn’t know or weren’t sure. Some 18-21 year olds seem to be working for less than the minimum wage.
For people under the age of 18, there isn’t one. Some people think there should be and at some time in the future there might be, but there isn’t at the moment. For 18-21 year olds, it went up on October 1st 2002 to £3.60 per hour and it will go up to £3.80 an hour in October 2003. This is the law of the country and employers are not allowed to ignore it, so if you’re 18, that’s the very least you should be paid!
Question 5: Are you entitled to breaks during the working day?
PROBLEM: 10% of students think they’re not or aren’t sure about it.
For once, the answer is simple; yes are (2), (5), (6). If you’re not getting breaks during the day, your employer is breaking the law and there are people to advise you on what to do (see Part-time Work references).
Question 6: If special working clothes are needed, do you have to supply them yourself?
PROBLEM: 8 in 10 students think definitely not, and it isn’t always as simple as that.
Most of the time, when special clothing is needed, it is supplied by employers. If there are health and safety issues involved, as there are various kinds of jobs involving the use of chemicals, equipment are obliged to supply them (8), (9).
But there are also occasions when employers can expect employees to dress in a particular way and to dress themselves. This could include jobs where you’re in
constant contact with the public or jobs which involve specialist skills, such as sports coaching or lifeguards. A constantly shabby appearance or a failure to turn up with the right kit could be grounds for dismissal as far as some employers are concerned.
Question 7: Does your employer have to supply a place where you can relax during breaks?
PROBLEM: Two thirds of the students we questioned were plain wrong about this one.
The simple answer to this one is no. Although most students do believe that they are entitled to somewhere to go, we could find no law or regulation which actually obliges employers to supply places. Many of them do, for the sake of good relations with their work force, but they don’t actually have to.
This is not to be confused with their obligations concerning providing breaks – they have to allow a certain amount of time during the working day for breaks, but they don’t have to work out for you where you can go.
Question 8: Does your employer have to pay for you to travel to and from work?
PROBLEM: 15% of the students we questioned think that employers do have to pay or are not sure about it.
Simple answer again: no. Employers have no obligations at all to pay for your travel to and from work. Many of them will pay travelling expenses for people coming to interviews and some high-paid jobs still come with company cars or lease arrangements, but part-time employment will not provide any part of your travel costs.
Question 9: Is your employer supported to give you health and safety advice?
PROBLEM: 2 students in every 10 think they’re not or are not sure about it.
Yes, employers have clear obligations concerning health and safety advice (8), (9). Health and safety material has acquired the reputation in some people’s minds as being mostly about stating the obvious in rather a patronising way. However, as will be seen in the responsibilities section, there are issues involved which are much more important than not putting your mug down on a PC, and which could, in certain circumstances, place students in very difficult situations.
Question 10: Can your employer not pay you without giving a reason?
On almost every occasion the answer here will be ‘no’. Employers’ obligations are very clearly outlined in respect of pay and deductions from it (2), (4). But it also depends on whether or not you are classified as being an employee. Recently, employers have increasingly started using the idea of ‘self-employment’, where a ‘contract for employment’ obliges the worker to ‘carry out a particular task in return for a fee of some kind’, thereby technically making the worker self-employed and without the rights of an employee. See (4) on the list at the end of the Guide for more details. It is a good idea to make sure that people at the place where you intend to work for have pay slips etc. and are definitely classified as employees.
Rights at work – gender and age.
For the research work on which this guide is based, the questionnaires completed included 846 from female students and 634 from male students. 305 were aged 18 or over, and 1175 were under 18. The results suggested that there are differences in the way people see their rights at work.
(1) Male students are more definite about their answers, with fewer in the ‘not sure’ groups. Unfortunately, their greater certainty did not mean that they were more likely to be right; sometimes they were sure but entirely wrong.
(2) 18+ students were more accurate. Students aged 18 and over were also more sure, but they were also more right – experience does help.