The employment rights you might not know you have

Lisa Branker from law firm Beecham Peacock provides the answers to some of the most Googled employment law issues in the UK.

Employment law documents and gavel.


Dealing with problems at work? You’re not alone. Whether you’re dealing with bullying at work, missing out on your chance to take your break during a long shift, or even being forced to resign from your employment, it’s vital to understand your rights in these situations.

Here, Lisa Branker, employment law specialist at Beecham Peacock, takes a look at some of Britain’s most-searched questions on employment, to help you uncover the employment rights you might be unaware of.

Key findings

 4,400 people search for “bullying at work” every month in the UK – bullying and harassment is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010 if it relates to a protected characteristic.
 2,400 people across the UK search for “what is the law for work breaks?” each month – if you’re aged over 18, you’re entitled to a 20-minute break if you work for over six hours.
 There are 1,900 monthly searches for “what is a constructive dismissal” – this occurs when you’re forced to leave your job against your will due to your employer’s misconduct.
 1,000 people search for “do you have to work for your notice” every month – this will depend on your contract of employment.

Bullying at work (4,400 monthly searches)

With 4,400 people searching for “bullying at work” each month, workplace bullying seems to be a common problem in the UK. Bullying and harassment can be categorised as behaviour that makes someone feel intimidated or offended.

Branker comments: “If you feel this is happening to you, you should consider raising a grievance. Be sure to gather as much evidence as possible as these allegations can be difficult to prove without hard evidence. Try to keep a paper trail or a record of any incidents that occur. Save any emails related to the case, or ask a trusted colleague to act as a witness.”

What is the law for work breaks? (2,400 monthly searches)

2,400 people across the UK are searching for this every month, suggesting thousands of people are missing out on their work breaks. Often, this is the case in roles within the service sector, such as working in a bar, club or restaurant. However, just because these areas are fast-moving and consumer-facing, it doesn’t mean you should miss out on a break.

If you’re aged over 18, you’re entitled to a 20-minute break if you work over six hours. You also have the right to an 11-hour break between shifts – for example, if you finish at 8pm, you shouldn’t start your next shift until at least 7am the following morning. You’re also entitled to 24 hours a week of uninterrupted rest.

“The Working Time Regulations govern the rest breaks you are entitled to, and how compensatory rest breaks may sometimes be permitted if you can’t take your breaks at the specified times,” says Branker.

“Not all breaks are paid,” she adds, “and you should check your contract, staff handbook or policies for more information on this”.

If you think you are missing or being prevented from taking breaks, you should speak to a specialist employment solicitor.

What is a constructive dismissal? (1,900 monthly searches)

A constructive dismissal occurs if you’ve been forced to leave your job because of your employer’s conduct. Usually, this takes place in the form of a breach of a fundamental contract right. It can also occur where an employee has lost trust and confidence in their employer.

A constructive dismissal can take place after one significant breach of contract or a series of smaller incidents that, taken together, make you feel you have no other option than to leave your employment.

It is important that you let your employer know about the issues and give them a chance to resolve them – employers can’t fix what they don’t know is happening. However, if your employer fails to deal with your concerns within a reasonable time, you may feel that you have no choice but to leave.

With 1,900 monthly searches for ‘what is a constructive dismissal,’ it’s safe to say it’s a common issue. However, we’d always recommend seeking legal advice before resigning from your employment because of the conduct of your employer.

Do you have to work your notice? (1,000 monthly searches)

“Usually, your notice period depends on the contract you’ve signed. If your contract is silent on this point, the statutory position is that if you’ve worked at the company for longer than one month, you’re typically required to work a notice period of at least one week for each full year you have worked,” advises Branker.

You may be able to negotiate a shorter notice period or be asked not to attend work during your notice period (known as garden leave). You may also, where permitted, be paid but not required to work during your notice period. This is known as payment in lieu of notice.

However, if you actively refuse to work your notice period, you could leave yourself open to a potential breach of contract claim from your employer.

What to do if your employer won’t give you your P45? (590 monthly searches)

Your employer is legally required to give you a P45. If they don’t, and continue to refuse, you can report them to HMRC. HMRC may then intervene with your employer, which may be followed by a fine or other punitive action.

Can my employer reduce my hours? (210 monthly searches)

A commonly-asked question on Google, there are 210 people searching for this every month across the UK.

Check your contract to see whether there’s a provision to allow your employer to amend your working hours – the type of contract you are on and the terms of your contract will govern whether you are entitled to fixed or variable hours.

In many cases, both employees and employers across the UK are lacking knowledge in terms of the workforce’s rights. Part of this may be due to a lack of familiarity with employment contracts, so it’s always worth clarifying any contract provisions with a professional.

“If you are unsure what the obligations are, having reviewed your contract, you should seek legal advice,” comments Branker.

*Established in 1953, Beecham Peacock is one of the North East’s leading law firms, with a wealth of experience in a myriad of different legal fields. Its team of expert solicitors includes specialists in wills, trusts and probate, personal injury, family law and employment law. The firm also offers a wide range of other legal services.

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