UK Labour Laws

April 9th 2024

This article covers:

What are UK Time Management Laws?

Employment laws in the UK encompass a wide range of issues relating to the relationship between employers and employees, safeguarding the interest of both parties in areas such as hiring, compensation, working hours, time off and vacation time, termination, discrimination, dispute resolution, and inclusivity. Although it may be intricate, employment law promotes equity in the employer-employee dynamic.

The UK’s Time Management Regulations, also known as the Working Time Regulations 1998, set out the maximum number of hours most workers in the UK can work per week, as well as rules on rest breaks and annual leave. The regulations provide for a maximum average working week of 48 hours, although employees can opt out of this limit if they choose. The regulations also require employers to provide employees with rest breaks during their working day, and to provide them with a minimum of 28 days’ paid leave per year. In addition, the regulations provide for limits on night work and requirements for employers to provide health assessments for night workers. The Time Management Regulations aim to promote a healthy work-life balance and ensure that employees have adequate time off work to rest and recuperate.

Employers, in the UK, are required to pay the National Minimum Wage according to the employee’s age, and individuals over 21 years old are entitled to the National Living Wage

The current rates for the National Living Wage and National Minimum Wage are listed below and are updated on April 1 every year.

Learn more about UK Working Time and it’s newly suggested 4-day Workweek.  ‎

21 and over 18 to 20 Under 18 Apprentice
April 2024 (current rate) £11.44 £8.60 £6.40 £6.40
April 2023 £10.18 £7.49 £5.28 £5.28

What are the Hiring, Working & Dismissal Laws in the UK?

When hiring in the UK, accepting an “unconditional” job offer creates a legally binding employment contract, while a “conditional” job offer may be revoked if the person does not meet the employer’s requirements. If an employer withdraws a job offer after it has been accepted, the employee may have limited options for recourse. However, if an employee accepts an unconditional offer and then changes their mind, the employer can either require them to fulfill the terms of their notice period or take legal action for breach of contract.

An employment contract is a written agreement between an employer and an employee that specifies the terms and conditions of the job. This includes the employee’s duties, working hours, environment, and rights. The contract may also include the company’s expectations. Employees should ask questions before signing. Employment contracts may be used in legal cases if an employee makes a claim against their employer.

The Equality Act 2010 provides legal protection to individuals in their workplace against discrimination based on defined protected characteristics that include:

  • Sex
  • Race
  • Religion
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Gender reassignment
  • Disability
  • Marriage and civil partnership
  • Sexual orientation
  • Age

Any kind of mistreatment towards an employee due to any of these characteristics or any other types of discrimination is illegal and may lead to various forms of action.

Terminating the employment of a specific employee, known as dismissal in the UK, does not always necessitate giving prior notice. However, if an employee is dismissed, employers must have a valid reason for the dismissal that they can explain and they must display that the action was reasonable under the circumstances. Additionally, before dismissing an employee, the situation must be investigated thoroughly, and the termination of employment must be consistent with the employer’s actions and decisions in cases of similar nature. Further, part-time or fixed-term workers, cannot be treated less favorably than a full-time or permanent employee.

According to UK employment law, employees with two or more years of continuous service can claim against a business for unfair dismissal when proper procedures are not followed or the reason for dismissal is unjustified. Examples of situations that may give rise to legal protection against unfair treatment or dismissal in the UK include requesting flexible working arrangements, refusing to give up rights to rest breaks, resigning and providing the appropriate notice period, joining a trade union, taking time off for jury service, applying for maternity, paternity, or adoption leave, reporting workplace wrongdoing as a whistleblower, compulsory retirement.  

What Are the Key Labor Laws in the UK?

We present a concise summary of significant employment laws in the UK, that may not be related to the categories we have previously explored:

  • Health and Safety at Work Act 1974: The Health and Safety at Work Act (HASAWA) requires employers to provide safe and healthy workplaces for all employees, and minimise the risks to their health and safety. To achieve this, the Act mandates employers to conduct risk assessments, provide suitable training and supervision to employees, and ensure safe systems of work and equipment. The Act also outlines the duties that employees owe to themselves and others, as well as the obligations that some self-employed individuals must fulfill. 
  • Employment Rights Act 1996: This extensive law was implemented as a revision to earlier labour laws in the UK and encompasses all rights and responsibilities of both employees and employers in the workplace, including the employment contract, wages, working hours, leave entitlements, and the termination of employment. The Act also grants employees several rights such as to a written statement of employment, itemised pay statement, minimum notice period before dismissal, health and safety protections, and a framework for resolving disputes.
  • National Minimum Wage Act 1998: The National Minimum Wage Act 1998 is a UK legislation that sets a minimum hourly wage rate that employers must pay to their employees. It also establishes a framework for enforcing the minimum wage, including penalties for employers who fail to comply with the legislation. The rate of the minimum wage varies depending on the age of the employee and whether they are an apprentice. It is also revised annually. Employees aged 21 and above are mandated by law to receive the National Living Wage instead of the National Minimum Wage. This rate is higher than the National Minimum Wage. People do not receive both the National Minimum Wage and the National Living Wage at the same time, but rather they receive one or the other depending on their age. Workers who are under 21 years old are entitled to the National Minimum Wage, while those who are 21 years old and over are entitled to the National Living Wage.
  • Employment Relations Act 1999: The Employment Relations Act 1999 is a UK statute that was introduced to promote good employment relations between employers and employees and establish procedures for resolving conflicts. The Act created a legal framework for trade unions, allowing employees to participate in collective bargaining with their employer through a recognised union and offering protection for those who participate in trade union activities. Additionally, it granted the right to be accompanied at disciplinary and grievance hearing and provided family-friendly provisions such as the right to take unpaid parental leave and the right to request flexible working, among others.
  • Maternity and Parental Leave etc. Regulations 1999: The Maternity and Parental Leave etc. Regulations 1999 is designed to allow employees to take time off to care for their child or to make arrangements for the child’s welfare. Parents with children below 18 years old may take up to a maximum of 18 weeks of unpaid leave per child in any 12-month period, in blocks of one week or more. Eligible employees are those who have been continuously employed for at least one year and have or expect to have parental responsibility for the child.
  • Part-Time Workers Regulations 2000: The Part-Time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2000 are a set of laws enacted in the UK to prevent discrimination against part-time workers. The regulations aim to ensure that part-time workers are treated equally to full-time workers, in terms of pay and working conditions. Provisions of the regulations also include equal access to training, career development, and benefits as full-time workers on the grounds of their part-time status.
  • Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations (TUPE) 2006: These regulations protect the employment rights of employees when the business or undertaking they work for is transferred to a new employer. It aims to ensure that employees are not disadvantaged by the transfer of the business and that their employment terms and conditions, such as pay, benefits, and length of service, are preserved. TUPE applies to a wide range of situations, including business mergers, acquisitions, and outsourcing. 
  • The Data Protection Act 2018: The Data Protection Act 2018 governs the collection, processing, storage, and sharing of personal data. It mandates employees to obtain consent from individuals to use their data, ensure the accuracy and security of data, and provide employees with the right to access their data and request its deletion after leaving their role. The act replaces the Data Protection Act 1998 and incorporates the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) into UK law, applying to all organisations, including businesses, charities, and government agencies, that process personal data.
  • The Working Time Regulations 1998: The ‘working time regulations’ or  ‘working time directive’ prohibit working for more than an average of 48 hours per week usually calculated over a period of 17 weeks known as the “reference period.” Therefore, it is possible for you to work more than 48 hours in one week as long as the average working hours over the reference period of 17 weeks remains below 48 hours per week. Workers can opt out of the 48-hour week if they choose to work more, with certain employees exceptions who cannot opt out of the 48-hour week. Employees under 18 are restricted to no more than 8 hours per day or 40 hours per week. Certain jobs may require working more than 48 hours per week on average, such as those with 24-hour staffing, in the armed forces or emergency services, in security and surveillance, as domestic servants, as seafarers or workers on vessels, or where working time is not measured and the worker is in control.

UK Payment Laws

Let’s begin by discussing the essential laws and regulations that pertain to the minimum wage in the UK.

What is the Minimum Payment in the UK?

In the UK, all workers are entitled to a minimum pay per hour called the National Minimum Wage, except for those who are not eligible. The National Minimum Wage applies to workers who are at least school-leaving age. Workers over 21 years old are entitled to a higher minimum wage called the National Living Wage. It is mandatory for all employers, regardless of their size, to pay the correct minimum wage.

The minimum wage employees are entitled to depends on their age and whether they are an apprentice. Apprentices aged under 19 or those aged 19 or over in the first year of their apprenticeship are entitled to the apprentice rate. Apprentices aged 19 or over who have completed the first year of their apprenticeship are entitled to the minimum wage for their age.

Employers must maintain records to prove that they are paying the minimum wage. They can keep these records in any format they choose, whether it is paper or computer-based. However, they must be able to present records for a particular pay reference period in a single document. Employers are required to keep these records for at least 6 years, starting from the last day of the pay reference period, provided they:

  • Were created on or after April 1, 2021
  • Still required keeping by March 31, 2021 under the previous 3-year rule

Employers can use their payroll records as evidence of total pay and hours worked. Additionally, employers may need to maintain other records, such as agreements on working hours, pay, and working conditions, as well as documents indicating why a worker is not entitled to the minimum wage.  

How to Calculate Minimum Payment in the UK?

Certain payments are excluded when calculating the minimum wage, including:

  • Payments made for the employer’s benefit (such as travel expenses)
  • Non-refundable expenses incurred by the employee for the job (such as tools and uniforms)
  • Gratuities as well as service and cover charges
  • Additional pay for working unsocial hours. 

In contrast, payments that must be included in the minimum wage calculation include:

  • Income Tax and National Insurance offerings
  • Wage advances or loans
  • Wage advances or loans repayment
  • Overpaid wages repayment
  • Penalty charges for misconduct
  • Expenses that the worker voluntarily incurred or paid for that are not required for the job
  • Accommodation given by the employer that exceeds the maximum offset rate of £8.70 per day or £60.90 per week.

Calculate here the minimum wage for workers and employers to ensure accurate payment and uncover any outstanding payment from the previous year. Also, refer to the guidance on calculating the minimum wage for eligible payments, computation, and enforcement.  

What is the Payment Due Date in the UK?

Employers are responsible for informing their employees of their pay rate and pay schedule upon commencing employment, as well as providing information regarding the payment method. Those classified as an employee or worker and not a contractor or freelancer are entitled to receive a payslip that details earnings before and after deductions, as well as any variable deductions such as taxes and National Insurance. If the pay rate is dependent on the number of hours worked, the payslip will also display the number of hours worked. In situations where the employee may be required to claim compensation or redundancy from the employer, understanding how to calculate weekly pay is necessary.

Pay reference periods are determined based on the frequency of payments, such as weekly, monthly, or every 10 days, and cannot exceed 31 days. The worker’s average pay for the hours worked within the pay reference period must not be lower than the minimum wage.

Employment contracts can include a payment date clause, making late payment a breach of contract. Withholding and failing to pay wages is illegal in the UK under the Employment Rights Act 1966. UK pay laws do not differentiate between one-off or recurring late payments. Late payment can lead to legal action for breach of contract or an employment tribunal for unlawful deduction of wages, with potential payouts up to £20,000 per worker.  

What is the Payment for Part-time Workers in the UK?

Part-time workers must receive a minimum hourly pay rate equivalent to that of a full-time worker performing a similar job.  

What is the Payment for Disability Rights in the UK?

Employed individuals with disabilities may be able to top up a low salary by claiming Universal Credit. They may also be able to receive assistance through an Access to Work grant, which can be used to cover the costs of special equipment, adaptations, or support worker services that can help with performing job duties. This grant may also cover the costs of transportation to and from work, mental health support, and communication support during a job interview, such as a British Sign Language interpreter or a lipspeaker.  

What is Overtime Pay in the UK?

Employers are not obligated to compensate workers for overtime hours worked. Nevertheless, it is required that the average pay for all hours worked by an employee must meet or exceed the National Minimum Wage. Information regarding the payment rates and calculation of overtime compensation is typically included in an employee’s contract.  

What are UK Overtime Laws?

Employees are not obligated to work overtime unless their employment contract specifies that they are required to do so. According to the law, employees cannot be forced to work more than an average of 48 hours per week. They may agree to work additional hours, but this agreement must be documented in writing and signed by the employee. If the contract does not guarantee overtime, employers may prohibit their employees from working it. Employers cannot discriminate against employees by prohibiting some from working overtime while allowing others to do so.  

What are the Laws Regarding Night Working Hours in the UK?

Employees who work at least 3 hours during the “night period” on a regular basis are considered night workers. The night period typically runs from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m., but employers and workers can agree to a different period, as long as it is 7 hours long and includes the hours between midnight and 5 am. This agreement must be made in writing. Alternatively, employees may be classified as night workers if there is a collective agreement in place, such as a trade union agreement, which defines their work as night work. Night workers are subject to the National Minimum Wage, but there is no special rate for working at night.

When it comes to sleep-in shifts, workers are paid the National Minimum Wage for certain hours depending on the type of shift they are assigned to. If workers are expected to sleep for the majority of a sleep-in shift, such as care workers who are provided with appropriate sleeping arrangements, they will only receive the National Minimum Wage for the time spent performing tasks while they are awake. However, if workers are expected to work for most of their shift, even if they are permitted to rest between tasks, they will be paid the National Minimum Wage for the entire duration of their shift. Employers are required to ensure that night workers do not work beyond an average of 8 hours within a 24-hour period, which is typically calculated over a 17-week period. However, if agreed upon by both the workers and the employer, this average can be calculated over a longer period of up to 52 weeks. Regular overtime is factored into the average calculation, while occasional overtime is not and it is not possible for workers to opt out of this limit. Night workers facing hazards or strain cannot exceed 8 hours of work within a 24-hour period. A risk assessment and free health assessment are required, and agreements may outline the hazards. Exceptions to night work limits may apply.

Learn more in detail about UK Overtime Laws.

What are UK Time Off/Break Laws?

Typically, employees who are 18 years old and above have the right to three different types of breaks: rest breaks while on the job, a daily rest period, and a weekly rest period.

  • Rest breaks at work – Employees who work more than 6 hours a day are entitled to an uninterrupted 20-minute rest break. This break may be taken as a tea or lunch break and whether it is paid or not depends on the employment contract. Employers are allowed to determine when during work hours their employees may take rest breaks provided the break is taken in one continuous period during the middle of the day, not at the beginning or end, and workers are allowed to spend their break away from their workstation or desk. It does not count as a rest break if an employer asks an employee to return to work before their break is finished. For health and safety reasons, domestic workers in private homes, such as cleaners or au pairs, are not entitled to rest breaks. Additionally, workers are not entitled to smoking breaks or paid rest breaks unless specified in their employment contract. Young people, as well as lorry and coach drivers, have different regulations concerning their rest breaks.
  • Daily rest – Employees are entitled to a daily rest period of 11 hours between working days. For example, if an employee finishes work at 9 p.m., they should not begin work again until 6 a.m. the following day.
  • Weekly rest – Employees have the right to a weekly rest period of either an uninterrupted 24 hours without any work each week or an uninterrupted 48 hours without any work each fortnight.

What are the Exceptions to Break Law in the UK?

Employees do not have the right to the three general types of rest break if they are employed in certain professions. These include

  • The armed forces, emergency services, or police who are dealing with an exceptional catastrophe or disaster
  • Jobs where employees have flexibility over their working hours, such as managing directors, or where the work is not measured and there are no set hours
  • Workers in sea, air, or road transport

Employees may have the right to additional or alternative breaks from their work if it is specified in their contract of employment.  

What is Compensatory Rest in the UK?

Compensatory rest breaks are available for certain workers who are unable to take specific rest breaks. These compensatory rest breaks are of the same duration as the missed break and are provided if the employee:

  • is unable to take daily or weekly rest breaks between shifts
  • works in a distant workplace such as an oil rig
  • works in multiple locations that are reasonably far apart
  • does security or surveillance work
  • works in a seasonally busy industry like agriculture, retail, postal services, or tourism
  • needs to work due to an exceptional event or risk of an accident
  • works where round-the-clock staffing is needed for service or production not to be interrupted
  • works on trains or has a job related to ensuring timely train operation 
  • has a split working day such as a cleaner who works part of the morning and evening
  • is bound by an agreement among management, trade unions, or the workforce that changes or eliminates rest break rights for a group of workers

What are UK Breastfeeding Laws?

Pregnant employees and nursing mothers are entitled to additional rest breaks while at work. It is important to mutually agree upon the timing and frequency of these breaks. Employers are required to provide a suitable space for resting, which should include provisions such as a place to lie down if needed, privacy and hygiene for expressing milk (as toilets are not appropriate for this purpose), and a designated area for storing expressed milk, such as a fridge. It is also essential to consider any additional risks that may arise from certain work conditions, such as exposure to organic mercury, radioactive material, or lead, when conducting individual risk assessments for breastfeeding employees. These accommodations should continue for as long as the employee wishes to continue breastfeeding.  

What are UK Leave Laws?

In the UK, employees are entitled to various types of leave depending on their circumstances. The following are the primary types of leave available:

  • Annual Leave All individuals who are considered workers in the UK, regardless of their employment type, such as agency workers or those with irregular working hours, are entitled to a minimum of 5.6 weeks of paid annual leave per year, also known as statutory leave or annual leave. This amounts to 28 days for those who work five days a week, and employers may include bank holidays as part of this allowance. The maximum amount of paid holiday leave that an employee can receive under this law is 28 days, even if they work more than five days a week.
  • Adoption Pay and Leave – If employees are taking time off work to adopt a child or have a child through surrogacy, they may qualify for Statutory Adoption Leave and Pay. There are specific guidelines on how and when to claim this paid leave, as well as the option to change the dates. It may also be possible for employees to take Shared Parental Leave and Pay. Statutory Adoption Leave lasts for 52 weeks, which is composed of 26 weeks of Ordinary Adoption Leave and 26 weeks of Additional Adoption Leave. Employees eligible for adoption leave may also be eligible for paid leave to attend up to five adoption appointments after being matched with a child. Only one member of a couple can take adoption leave, with the other partner being able to take paternity leave instead. Further,  employment rights are protected while on Statutory Adoption Leave, which includes entitlements such as pay raises, accruing holiday time, and the ability to return to work.
  • Taking Sick Leave – Workers have the option to take time off work when they are unwell, and if they are absent for more than seven days, they must provide their employer with evidence. If an employee becomes ill just before or during their holiday, they may choose to take it as sick leave instead. While an employee is off work due to illness, they continue to accrue their statutory holiday entitlement, irrespective of the duration of their absence. Any unused statutory holiday entitlement because of illness can be carried forward into the next year’s leave entitlement. If an employee does not qualify for sick pay, they may request to take their paid holiday for the duration of their sickness absence. However, any regulations relating to sick leave must still be followed and employers are not permitted to compel employees to take annual leave when they are entitled to sick leave.
  • Paternity Pay and Leave – Employees have the option of taking one or two weeks of leave of paternity leave. If one’s partner has a multiple birth, like twins, they are still entitled to the same amount of leave. The leave must be taken all at once and a week is equivalent to the number of days the employee typically works in a week. For instance, if one only work on Mondays and Tuesdays, a week is considered two days. Leave cannot begin before the birth, and it must conclude within 56 days from the birth date or due date if the baby arrives early. If the employee wishes to change their start date, they must notify their employer 28 days in advance. Further, employees are not required to provide a specific date for their leave; instead, they can give an approximate time, such as the birth date or one week after the birth.
  • Maternity Pay and Leave – The standard duration of Statutory Maternity Leave is 52 weeks, with the first 26 weeks being Ordinary Maternity Leave and the last 26 weeks being Additional Maternity Leave. Employees are not required to take the full 52 weeks, but they must take a minimum of 2 weeks’ leave after their baby is born or 4 weeks if they work in a factory. The earliest time an employee can begin their leave is typically 11 weeks before the expected week of childbirth. If the baby is born prematurely or if the employee is absent from work due to a pregnancy-related ailment in the four weeks before the week their baby is due, the leave will commence the day following the birth or automatically.
  • Unpaid Parental Leave Employees who meet the eligibility requirements are entitled to take unpaid parental leave to care for their child’s welfare. This leave can be used to increase time spent with their children, assess new schools, establish new childcare arrangements, spend time with family members, such as visiting grandparents, and other related purposes. During this leave, their employment rights including pay, holidays, and the right to return to their job are safeguarded.

Here is a table of holidays observed in the UK:

Holiday Date Type
New Year’s Day January 1st Public/Bank Holiday
Good Friday Variable (Friday before Easter Sunday) Public/Bank Holiday
Easter Monday Variable (Monday after Easter Sunday) Public/Bank Holiday
May Day/Bank Holiday First Monday in May Public/Bank Holiday
Spring Bank Holiday Last Monday in May Public/Bank Holiday
Summer Bank Holiday Last Monday in August Public/Bank Holiday
Christmas Day December 25th Public/Bank Holiday
Boxing Day December 26th Public/Bank Holiday
Scotland National Day (St. Andrew’s Day) November 30th Scotland only
Northern Ireland National Day (St. Patrick’s Day) March 17th Northern Ireland only
Wales National Day (St. David’s Day) March 1st Wales only
England National Day (St. George’s Day) April 23rd England only

Holidays in the UK may vary depending on the country/region. The above table includes holidays observed at a national level, but there may be additional holidays that are specific to certain regions or localities within the UK.  

What are UK Child Labour Laws?

Minors need to be at least 13 years old to work part-time, except for those in the entertainment industry such as television, theatre, or modelling who need a performance licence for employment. For minors to work full-time, they must meet the minimum school leaving age, and they are allowed a maximum of 40 hours per week. At 16, the employer may need to use PAYE to pay minors, and once they turn 18, they are entitled to adult employment rights and regulations.  

What are the Laws on Working Hours for Minors in the UK?

Minors are restricted to working a maximum of 12 hours per week during the term time, which is when schools are open, and students are expected to attend classes and adhere to a fixed schedule. This maximum includes a limit of 2 hours on school days and Sundays, as well as a maximum of 5 hours on Saturdays for those who are 13 to 14 years old or 8 hours for those who are 15 to 16 years old.

During school breaks, 13 to 14-year-olds are allowed to work for a maximum of 25 hours per week, including a maximum of 5 hours on weekdays and Saturdays and a maximum of 2 hours on Sunday. Meanwhile, 15 to 16-year-olds are limited to working a maximum of 35 hours per week, including a maximum of 8 hours on weekdays and Saturdays and a maximum of 2 hours on Sunday.

Minors who are 16 or 17 years old are not permitted to work from midnight to 4 a.m. Generally, they are prohibited from working between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., although their employment contract may stipulate that they cannot work between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. However, certain exceptions apply if they work in fields such as agriculture, healthcare, hotels or catering, retail, or newspaper and post delivery, as well as in cultural, sporting, artistic, or advertising activities. In extraordinary circumstances, such as when there is no adult available to perform the work and the young person is required to manage a sudden increase in demand or maintain the continuity of a service or production, they may be allowed to work at night. If this occurs, the employer must ensure that the young person receives a rest period that is equal in duration to the extended shift.  

What are the Restrictions on Child Employment in the UK?

There are several restrictions on when and where children are allowed to work. Minors are not allowed to work:

  • without an employment permit issued by the education department of the local council, if this is required by local bylaws
  • in places like a factory or industrial site
  • during school hours
  • before 7 a.m. or after 7 p.m.
  • for more than one hour before school (unless local bylaws allow it)
  • for more than 4 hours without taking a break of at least 1 hour
  • in any work that may be harmful to their health, well-being or education
  • without having a 2-week break from any work during the school holidays in each calendar year

Important Cautionary Note

This content is provided for informational purposes only. While we make every effort to ensure the accuracy of the information presented, we cannot guarantee that it is free of errors or omissions. Users are advised to independently verify any critical information and should not solely rely on the content provided.