Topic overview

Employment rights

Pregnant women writing in her notebook on her white desk

Employment law is designed to safeguard employee rights, but it also removes ambiguity about what's expected of both parties. So, if you get it right, it can be good for you as an employer too.

Small business owners can't be expected to know the details of every piece of employment law. However, knowing a few basic yet important facts could protect you from potentially costly legal action. Visit the Acas website to view their advice on key employment issues - from managing absence to rights of working parents.

Rules about working hours

Unless they opt out (and confirm this in writing), employees don't have to work more than an average of 48 hours a week over a 17-week period.

They have the right to at least one full day off every seven, in addition to their daily rest period (20 minutes paid, if the working day is longer than six hours). Employees are entitled to a daily rest period of 11 consecutive hours in every 24 hours. Note that different rules apply to working minors.

Full-time employees are entitled to 5.6 weeks' paid annual leave per year, while part-timers receive pro-rata entitlement.

Minimum wage

Every employee is entitled to receive the minimum wage applicable to their age. The National Living Wage is applicable to employees aged 21 and over and is payable at £11.44 per hour from 1 April 2024.

The National Minimum Wage for workers aged 18 to 21 is £8.60 per hour and the rate for 16 to 17-year-olds is £6.40 per hour. Apprentices aged under 19 and those in the first year of their apprenticeship are entitled to £6.40 per hour. (Apprentices aged over 19 and those who have completed more than one year of their apprenticeship are entitled to receive the full rate of National Minimum wage applicable to their age.)

Some businesses have committed to pay employees the Real Living Wage. This is set at £12.00 across the UK and £13.15 in London (rates effective from 23 October 2023).

Calculate your employees' NMW and NLW | GOV.UK Tool


Check if you're paying your employee the National Minimum Wage or National Living Wage and that you haven't underpaid them for previous years.

Visit the GOV.UK website to use the interactive National minimum wage and living wage calculator.

Fixed-term employees and agency staff have the right to the same pay as comparable permanent staff.  The 'Swedish derogation' (which allowed agencies to opt out of equalising the pay of agency staff with the permanent workforce) ended on 6 April 2020. Part-time workers are entitled to pro-rata pay and holiday.

In a working year, employees are entitled to at least statutory sick pay on their fourth day of absence. They don't have to be paid for the first three days.

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Maternity rights

Employees who are parents, or who are about to become parents, have a number of rights. A woman cannot be sacked or made redundant because she's pregnant. She must be given time off for antenatal care and can take 52 weeks' statutory maternity leave. To qualify for statutory maternity pay (SMP) - which can only be paid for 39 weeks - she must have worked for you for 26 weeks by the end of the fifteenth week before the week her baby is due and earn at least the lower earnings limit (£123 per week 2024/25).

She is entitled to 90% of her average weekly earnings (AWE) for the first six weeks, then the standard weekly rate of £184.03 or 90% of her AWE if this is lower than £184.03. Employees who don't qualify for SMP might qualify for maternity allowance. Employers can recover 92% of their SMP payments from HMRC (103% if their total NI payments are £45k or less). Women can't return to work within two weeks of giving birth (four weeks if they work in a factory).

Paternity rights

Paternity leave allows eligible employees to take two weeks' paid leave (paid at £184.03 or 90% AWE, whichever is lower) at or around the period in which the baby is due or is born. From April 2024, the two weeks can be taken separately or together. They must be taken within 52 weeks of the birth (or the expected week of birth if the baby is born early).

Fathers, partners and parents-to-be have the right to take unpaid time off work to attend up to two ante-natal appointments.

When adopting a child, one of the adoptive parents is entitled to six months' paid and six months' unpaid leave. If their partner works, he or she can take paternity leave.

Calculate maternity, paternity or adoption pay | GOV.UK Tool


Calculate how much maternity, paternity or adoption leave and pay your employee is entitled to by answering a few simple questions.

Visit the GOV.UK website to use the interactive Maternity, Adoption and Paternity calculator tool for employers.

Shared Parental Leave

Shared Parental Leave (SPL) and Statutory Shared Parental Pay (ShPP) gives parents more flexibility to arrange time off in the year after the birth or adoption of their baby. A new mother will be able to share up to 50 weeks' leave with her partner after taking the initial two weeks off following the birth of her baby (four weeks if the work is in a factory).

Leave can be taken in up to three separate blocks and parents can choose how much time off each of them will take. SPL and ShPP must be taken before the baby's first birthday (or within one year of adoption).

SPL can be used either alongside, or instead of, traditional maternity, adoption and paternity leave.

Shared parental leave: good practice guide | Acas


Shared parental leave gives qualifying new parents and their partners the right to share their statutory leave following the birth or adoption of a child.

This guide from Acas will help employers and employees understand Shared parental leave and pay, who qualifies and how to manage absences due to Shared parental leave

Statutory Parental Bereavement pay

All employed parents now have the right to two weeks' leave if they lose a child under the age of 18 or suffer a stillbirth from 24 weeks of pregnancy. Eligible parents can claim 184.03 or 90% of AWE, whichever is lower.

Carers Leave

Since April 2024, carers have been entitled to up to one week's unpaid leave (in each 12-month period) to care for a dependent with a 'long-term care need'. Employees can request, in writing, half or full days on consecutive and non-consecutive days up to a week's leave. Employees must give you notice of their intention to take leave that is at least twice the length of leave being requested or three days, whichever is greater. You can postpone the request if the business will be unduly disrupted. You must notify the employee in writing if you want to postpone the leave and allow the leave to be taken within a month.

Flexible working

Employers must consider requests for flexible working conditions from all eligible employees with at least 26 weeks' service (employees adopting employee-shareholder status do not have the statutory right to request flexible working except in relation to a flexible working request on return to work from maternity, paternity or adoption leave).

Pension Provision

All employers are required to 'auto-enrol' eligible employees into, and contribute towards, a workplace pension. Unless your employees specifically opt out, you will have to provide them with access to a contributory pension and make contributions towards their pension funds (you must contribute at least 3% of the employee's earnings and your employee must contribute at least 5%).

Reasonable adjustments

You must make 'reasonable adjustments' to your premises if this enables suitably qualified people with disabilities to work for you.

Health and Safety

As part of your health and safety obligations, you must provide a secure, safe and healthy working environment, which also grants sufficient privacy to employees.

You mustn't undermine the relationship of trust and confidence that should exist between you and your staff, so don't engage in gossip or disclose personal information. Employees can belong to a trade union and they're legally entitled to alert the relevant authorities if your actions are illegal or dangerous.

You also have legal responsibilities when recruiting and managing staff.

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