Knowing your rights at work

Knowing your rights at work is important. You may have a legal claim if your rights have been breached when being let go by an employer.

There are three main types of employment status:

  • employee
  • worker
  • self-employed

Your contract will tell you what your status is. The rights you have depend on your status and your contract.

Self-employed people don't have employment rights as such. Employees and workers usually need to be employed for two years before they can make a claim to the Employment Tribunal.

You can check your employment status on GOV.UK.

Have I been unfairly dismissed?

You could have a discrimination claim if you have been working for more than two years and think you have been fired or made redundant because:

  • you are pregnant
  • of your race or ethnicity
  • you are married or in a civil partnership
  • of your gender or sex
  • you have a disability
  • you are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender
  • of your religion
  • you are older or younger than the people you work with.

It's automatically unfair dismissal if you were let go for:

  • being pregnant or being on maternity leave
  • asking for your legal rights at work (breaks, minimum wage)
  • raising a health and safety issue
  • taking part in trade union activities
  • whistleblowing.

You do not need to be working for more than two years to make a claim if you lost your job for one of these reasons.

Your employer should always give you a clear reason why you are being dismissed.

You can make a claim if your employer has dismissed you for misconduct, or for any other reason, without following fair and proper procedures. Your employer should always be able to clearly show you which rules you have broken and provide evidence or witnesses to back up their claim. You should be given the chance to make your case and appeal as part of any process leading to dismissal.

What is constructive dismissal?

This is when you resign because of a breach of contract with your employer. Breaches could arise from changes to:

  • your pay (or not being paid)
  • hours of work
  • work location.

Demotion or some other loss of faith between employee and employer may also involve a breach of contract.

You can claim even if you have been working for less than two years. Continuing to work after being told about these changes can make it seem like you accept them. Therefore, you should resign immediately without notice for the best chance of a successful claim. However, in these situations, you should always seek legal advice as early as possible – before writing your resignation letter.

What do I do next?

You normally only have three months to make a claim to an employment tribunal. So, it is important that you act quickly and seek legal advice as soon as possible if you believe you're being unfairly or constructively dismissed.

You can get advice from

You can appeal your dismissal with your employer first if they have an appeals process. You should do this straight away. If they don't have an appeals process or your appeal is denied, you can take further legal action.

Tips for employees

  • Check your contract.
  • Keep a diary of dates and events.
  • Raise your concerns straight away.
  • Be proactive.
  • Keep any letters or forms.
  • Make sure you can access evidence (such as emails).
  • Get the contact details for any witnesses.

Tips for employers

  • Have clear policies that are easy to find.
  • Follow the correct procedure depending on the type of dismissal.
  • Give employees clear information about their rights.
  • Make sure all investigations are fair.
  • Consider underlying health/disability issues for absence cases.
  • Give employees warnings and opportunities to improve.