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Are You Being Treated Fairly At Work? – Knowing Your Rights

25 Feb 2021

Employee rights is a hugely important factor when it comes to you working, but in fact, knowing what’s right and what’s wrong can be difficult for students. This can be especially challenging when you are working your first job, as everything is new. We were recently joined by Tom on our podcast from the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority to help us get a clear view on what your rights are as an employee and any tips to make sure you are being treated correctly.

Want to listen to our podcast with Tom for more in-depth information on the issues? You can do so here.

What are the common issues?

Student pay

For the majority of students, the main reason for work it to receive pay. However, it is important to know that everyone in the UK is entitled to the minimum wage. This varies between age groups, but as of the time of writing (February 2021) the following rates were:

Apprentice: £4.15

Under 18: £4.55

18 to 20: £6.45

21 to 24: £8.20

25 and over £8.72

Being paid below the minimum wage is a clear indication of exploitation in the workplace, and there is no excuse from employers is they are doing so. Your wages cannot also be subsidised by tips, something which is popular practice in the US, but not here in the UK. Tips must be paid on top of your hourly wage.


One thing which may also not be clear is the fact everyone is entitled to paid holiday, or commonly referred to as annual leave. Even those on zero hours contracts. If you are unsure how holiday/annual leave works, you earn it based on how much you work. You are entitled to 5.6 weeks paid holiday per year from your employer, but if you work part time you earn those 5.6 weeks in proportion to the hours you work (pro rata). For more information, head to the ACAS website where you can see what you are entitled to.

Breaks and rest at work

Taking breaks during and between shifts is also not only something you are entitled to, but important when it comes to looking after yourself.

Breaks during shifts

When looking at a full, 8 hour working day, typically workers have at least a 20-minute break throughout the day. This is because you are legally entitled to a minimum 20-minute break, which is uninterrupted if you are working for more than 6 hours. By uninterrupted, your employer must make sure you are away from your usual ‘workstation’, such as the shop floor, meaning you are genuinely able to get a break from work.

Breaks between work

Between finishing work and starting the following day, you are entitled to a minimum of 11 hours between to give you suitable time to rest. Likewise, you are also entitled to breaks during the working week; 24 hours rest over a 7-day period or 48 hours over a 14-day period. When it comes to shift work, there are some situations where you may not be entitled to rest between your shifts, take a look at the ACAS website for more information.

Ensuring you have sufficient breaks is also important when it comes to looking after yourself, both mentally and physically. Be sure to avoid burnout by not overworking yourself; you may see your friends and colleagues working excessive hours whilst juggling school, college or university work however, be sure to understand your personal limits, and stay under that. As Tom said in our podcast, a productive 8-hour day is better than a 10-hour day where the quality of work is poor.

Working environment

The environment we go to work is in somewhere we always should feel safe and happy; being treated poorly at work is something no one should go through. It is important that firstly, you are not put in danger when you work and are working in safe conditions. This includes having (the correct) training for the role, especially when you are operating machinery. Depending on your type of work, there will be regulations and policies in place which may require you to have certain levels of training.

It also includes the way you are treated by others, such as bullying, harassment, victimisation and discrimination. Once again, ACAS outlines ways to understand the treatment you are experiencing, as well as ways to sort out these issues.

Addressing issues in the workplace

We understand that there may be situations where addressing any issues in the workplace is hugely intimidating. We’ve all been there in our first jobs at a young age, not knowing where to turn. Here are some of the best practices when it comes to addressing issues in the workplace, such as exploitation.


Contracts are your best friends. They are written proof of important aspects of your job and are a starting point to refer to if you believe something is wrong in the workplace. Be sure to read your contract thoroughly before signing it and make sure you understand everything! You may even find some extra benefits of the role you never knew about

Speak up

There may instances where a problem in the workplace is a genuine mistake, such as being underpaid. This can be as simple as an administrative error. Speak to your manager or a colleague about the issue rather than losing out and letting it ‘blow over’

Using email

It can also be beneficial to communicate any issues over email or text as these can be easily backed up and used at a later date should things escalate (usually highly unlikely). Unlike face-to-face conversations, important details cannot be left out and forgotten. Likewise, it can also be less intimidating this way, versus knocking on your managers door.

Trade unions

The perfect way to demonstrate strength in numbers. Trade unions are often utilised in places such as supermarkets where there is a large workforce; offering employees the opportunity to speak to trade union representatives about any issues that have arisen. They are there to protect you, so if you are offered the chance to join one as part of your job, join it!


ACAS is one of the best places to find free legal advice to employees with issues in the workplace. If you are unsure on any issues, head to the ACAS site as a starting point to see if they can answer your query.


The Gangmaster and Labour Abuse Authority offer the chance to find information, but also report any workplace exploitation/issues. You may witness someone else experiencing workplace exploitation; the GLAA also allows you to report any issues you see with other people.

Do your research

We have company profile on many great employers but having a search online to understand what the role you will be doing as well as the business can be hugely beneficial. It can help you see any issues other employees have had with the employer and draw up any red flags.

How to report Modern Slavery and Labour Exploitation (about yourself or someone else)

gla.gov.uk – Confidential Reporting: 0800 432 0804


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