Everything you need to know about working in the UK


Many people come to the UK to work and there are many different types of employment available. In this section we describe your rights regarding employment, starting with what you need to do in order to start working in the UK.

How to get started 

People who have a passport from an EU country have the right to live and work in the UK. People who come to the UK as a family member of someone with an EU passport also have the right to work in the UK. This may change after 2020.

There are different categories under which you can be employed in the UK, either as an employee or as a self-employed worker. In most jobs, you work as employee. However, if you want to work for yourself, which is called ‘self-employed’, you will need to register as self-employed with the HMRC (which is not covered in this guide). The reason why you need to know about these differences to different rights.

An employee has far more employment rights protected under legislation than a self- employed person. Some employers try to treat their workers as “self-employed” but in fact they are either workers or employees.

We will describe some of these rights in more detail below. If you have questions about employment you should seek advice from your local Law Centre.

Your right is to have a job contract: this is essential to have your employment rights protected against any problem. In the contract, you should have a description of the job in question as well as your rights and duties as an employee.

Your contract and hours

You can’t work more than 48 hours a week on average, unless you sign an opt-out agreement. You can start working full-time at age of 16. When someone reaches 18, the adult employment rights and rules are applied.

The basic rights when it comes to working times are:

  • one day off in any given week
  • breaks of at least 20 minutes after each 6 hours of work

A contract of more than 48 hours per week can be refused if no opt-out is provided. It is illegal to work more than an average of 8 hours per night. Self-employed people do not usually have these rights. Therefore, it is illegal for an employer to force workers to become self- employed and take their rights away.

Always ask for a written contract that provides proof of your terms and conditions of employment, specifying your name and your employer’s name, start date, job title, pay details, sick pay, and holidays.

Zero hours contracts

A zero hour’s contract puts you in a very weak position at work. Even if you get the same rights to the minimum wage, holiday, sick pay and maternity leave, it does not give you guaranteed working hours.

You cannot be paid less than the National Living/Minimum Wage and your wage will appear on your job contract. In the contract your employer will also inform you of the percentage of your salary which would be for the National Insurance system.

The National Minimum Wage changes every year. You can check it here: https://www.gov.uk/national-minimum-wage-rates

Some employers pay higher wages than those listed above. Some employers pay the “Real Living Wage” which is based on the cost of living and is voluntarily paid by over 4,200 UK employers.

This rate also changes every year; you can check the rate updates here.

Payslips/wage slips

A Payslip is a note given to an employee when they have been paid, with the information that details the amount of pay given, and the tax and insurance deducted.

You are also entitled to get a P60 and P45 form. A P60 form shows the tax you have paid on your salary in the tax year from 6 April to 5 April.

The P60 form can help you to:

  • claim back overpaid tax
  • apply for tax credits
  • act as a proof of your income if you apply for a loan or mortgage

A P45 shows how much tax you have paid on your salary so far in the tax year from 6 April to 5 April and you get it when you stop working for your employer.

What to do if your employer doesn't pay you?

If you work for your employer and they refuse to pay you for your work, this is what can you do:

  • Talk to your employer about the situation In cases where this does not work, write a letter making a formal complaint and keep a copy
  • If the actions described above do not work and you need to take further action you can make a claim to an Employment Tribunal.
  • If you are dismissed because you have notified your employer about this injustice, then you can report it to an Employment Tribunal as an unfair dismissal.

Please find more information on: http://www.lawcentres.org.uk/lcn-s-work/living-rights-project/know-your-rights


If you become pregnant while working you are entitled to maternity leave for one year after giving birth, this does not depend on your employment contract. You might not take your full maternity leave, but you have to take at least 2 weeks leave immediately after giving birth (4 weeks if you work in a factory). From the 11th week before giving birth, you can decide to start maternity leave. It is essential to give proper notice to your employer, at least 15 weeks before the baby is due; otherwise, you may miss out on certain benefits. You should be given time off on full pay for medical appointments relating to antenatal care. Your employer should make sure that you are working in conditions which are safe and healthy for pregnant women or recent mothers, ranging from not having to stand for long periods, to not having to lift heavy objects. You usually have an automatic right to return to work after your maternity leave.

Receiving maternity pay

A pregnant worker will usually be entitled to either:

  • statutory maternity pay
  • contractual maternity pay
  • maternity allowance

We will explain each of these in more detail below.

Statutory maternity pay

Statutory maternity pay (SMP) will be payable if a worker has been:

  • working continuously for one company for at least 26 weeks ending with the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth
  • has average weekly earnings at least equal to the lower earnings limit for National Insurance contributions.

SMP is payable for 39 weeks. For the first six weeks it is paid at 90 percent of the average weekly earnings. The following 33 weeks will be paid at the SMP rate or 90 per cent of the average weekly earnings whichever is the lower.

Since April 2020 the rate for SMP has been £152.20 per week. The amount is reviewed every April and you can check it here

Contractual maternity pay

Some employers offer this instead of statutory maternity pay - your contract or company maternity policy should inform you if your employer does.

Maternity Allowance

You might get this from the government if you can’t get statutory maternity pay from your employer.

You can find more information about Maternity leave and pay here

Paternity leave and pay

The mother’s partner can take up to 2 weeks of paternity leave that can be paid if they meet the eligibility criteria. You can find more information about this here 

However, you may find some employers offer different paternity leave provisions.


Unless you are self-employed, all workers are entitled to at least 5.6 weeks of paid holiday per year, which amounts to 28 days if you work full time (5 days a week). If you work part-time instead, you are still entitled to get 5.6 weeks of paid holiday but that amounts to fewer than 28 days as you work fewer hours. 

Sick pay

If you are sick and cannot attend work, you will need to tell your employer. Your employer may ask you to see a doctor after a certain number of days. By law, most employees are entitled to sick pay. There is a legal minimum amount you are entitled to (called Statutory Sick Pay) but your employer may offer more.

If you have been off work sick for 4 or more days and you are too ill to work, you can get £94.25 per week Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) for up to 28 weeks. If you have more than one job you may get SSP from each employer in the same way as your normal wages (e.g. weekly or monthly). You are not entitled to get the SSP if you are getting the Statutory Maternity Pay.
To qualify for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) you must:

  • be classed as an employee and have done some work for your employer
  • have been ill for at least 4 days in a row (including non-working days)
  • earn an average of at least £95.85 per week
  • tell your employer you are sick before their deadline - or within 7 days if they do not have one.

Please find more information on here.



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