The ultimate guide to part-time employment rights for workers

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By in Jobs & Careers. Updated .

Getting a job in the first place is normally the tricky bit, but what rights do you have once you're through the door? It's time you swatted up on your rights!Part time employment rightsFinding a part-time job is a tough enough ask on its own, but once you've landed your gig (congrats!), are you clued up on what your entitled to in terms of holiday pay, sick leave and work breaks?

It's crucial that any working person takes the time to swat up on their rights – despite their being laws put in place to protect workers, it's all too common for employers to push their luck.

We're here to fill you in on your part-time workers' rights, and what to do if you feel they're being compromised.

What's the minimum wage for my age group?

British coins with clock facesThere's always a good deal of debate that surrounds the topic of minimum wage rates, and it's just got a bit more complicated with the introduction of the National Living Wage for over 25s in April 2016.

The bottom line is that everyone has the right to be paid at least the minimum wage, with no exceptions, but exactly how high that figure is depends on how old you are.

The National Minimum Wage will vary depending on how old you are and it goes up every year. The current rates for 2016/17 are:

  • 25 and over – £7.20 per hour (new National Living Wage)
  • 21 and over – £6.95 per hour (25p rise on last year)
  • Between 18 and 20 – £5.55 per hour (25p rise on last year)
  • Under 18 – £4.00 per hour (13p up on last year)

As you might've noticed, the pay gap between someone working the same job at the age of 20 and 21 is a massive £1.40 per hour! If you didn't already know this, your 21st birthday just got a whole lot more exciting.

As a part-time worker, you have the right to receive the National Minimum Wage/ Living Wage, regardless of how many hours you work during the week, so don't accept anything less.

This means you're also entitled to the same per hour as a colleague of the same age who works full time hours – you shouldn't be paid any less per hour just because you're not a full time worker.

Any employer paying less is breaking the law – but funnily enough, even the government break the law sometimes!

How many holidays am I entitled to?

student discount abroadAll workers are legally entitled to a certain amount of paid holiday per year (unless you're self-employed or on a temporary contract). For those working full-time, you must get at least 5.6 paid holiday weeks a year.

For part-time workers, you're entitled to a proportion of those 5.6 weeks, depending on how many days/hours you normally work.

It's fairly easy to work out how much you're entitled too, and this holiday entitlement calculator tools makes it even easier to know what you're due.

And, before you ask – your holiday entitlement may or may not include bank holidays. It's up to your employer to decide, so make sure you check whether your holiday allowance is inclusive of bank hols or not before you go booking any holidays!

When you're allowed to take this holiday entitlement is pretty much down to you and your employer – it's all about coming to an agreement that suits you both.

It can get a little bit tricky when you're a student, as you'll probably want to use holidays to go home over Christmas and during exam leave. Don't forget that your workmates will need time off too, so try to be as flexible and understanding as you can.

It's also worth noting that if you work in retail or the service industry, Christmas is unfortunately the busiest time of the year, meaning some employers might even impose holiday blackout periods (where no employee is allowed to take holiday).

Similarly, employers can stipulate that you have to take holiday at certain times of the year if business is particularly quiet.

Your employer must give you the necessary time off, but there are no hard and fast rules regarding when and how many days off you can have in a row.

Are there rules about breaks?

kitkatWorking is hard… work, and that's why you're legally entitled to some rest and breaks throughout your shift. Sadly, it's up to your employer whether you get paid for breaks or not, and also KitKat's aren't mandatory *sadface*.

The number and length of breaks that you're entitled to depends on your age and how long your shift is, but they are a legal requirement.

There are three broad types of breaks that you need to know about:

  • Rest Breaks: If you work for more than six hours a day then you should have at least one uninterrupted rest break of 20 minutes. So that's pretty much your lunch break, a chance to pop to the shops or just enough time to grab a cup of tea.
  • Daily Rest: There should always be at least 11 hours between your shifts – everyone needs to catch some Zs, right? If you finish a shift at 9pm, you shouldn't be on the rota again until 8am the next day.
  • Weekly Rest: You also have the right to either an uninterrupted 24 hours without work each week, or 48 hours every fortnight. This could be at any point during the week.

If you're under 18 you're entitled to more breaks: in this case, you should get a rest break of 30 minutes if you work for more than 4.5 hours straight. Your daily rest is also increased to 12 hours and you get 48 hours of weekly rest.

Do I have to pay income Tax?

Boot playing piece on Monopoly board (income tax tile)The majority of students working part-time will never earn enough in the year to have to pay tax on their wages, but if you do earn megabucks, you'll have to cough up.

Everyone in the UK gets a personal allowance, which is the amount you're allowed to earn in a year before you get taxed. This figure is reassessed annually – currently it's set at £11,000, but is due to rise to £11,500 in 2017.

If you earn more than £11,000 a year, you'll be taxed at a rate of 20% on anything above that.

To make sure you're paying the right amount of tax (if any) you'll be given a tax code, which tells your employers if they should tax your earnings and by how much.

When you're first employed, you might be put on an emergency tax code, which will entail you paying more tax than you probably need to. If this is the case, call up the HMRC to sort this out so you don't pay out when you shouldn't have too.

Thankfully, you can also claim back tax that you've wrongly had deducted up to five years later. Find out everything you need to know in our guide to paying tax.

If you're feeling impatient and want to find out how much tax rebate you could be entitled to, give our tax refund calculator a whirl!

The deal with unpaid internships

unpaid-internshipsUnpaid internships are a contentious subject, and the law surrounding them can be a real grey area. A few MPs are currently pushing for unpaid internships to be made illegal in the UK, but so far their quest has been fruitless (but we won't give up hoping!).

However, the law is perhaps a bit tighter on unpaid work than you think, meaning you could be entitled to minimum wage on your unpaid placement.

Basically, anyone who is classed as a “worker”, is entitled to employment rights, which includes being paid the minimum wage, holiday pay and breaks. This is regardless of whether you're doing a “placement”, “work experience” – these terms aren't legal statuses.

You generally classify as a worker if:

  • You have a contract or agreement to do work or services for a reward. This doesn't have to be a written document though.
  • This reward could be money, but it may just be the promise of future work.
  • You have to turn up at set hours, which you don't get to choose.
  • Your employer has to have work for you to do for the length of your contract.

If you're on a shadowing placement, a compulsory internship as part of your degree or at school while under 16 then you aren't entitled to the minimum wage.

Otherwise, court cases so far seem to suggest that anyone doing work has a real value to a company should be paid. It doesn't matter if you've agreed to work for free initially; it's impossible to waive your right to the minimum wage.

Have a read of our guide to internships to find out the exact legal criteria for receiving payment. If you think you've missed out on cash you were due, you can now legally claim it back up to six years after completing your placement!

What to do if you have a problem

have a problem or complaintMost employers, especially larger companies, are fully aware of what you're entitled to and will stick rigidly to the rules (cause it'll cost them a lot more if they don't!). The vast majority of workers will have no problems at all, but knowing your rights is important in case something doesn't seem quite right.

Don't be swindled into working too many hours or being told you're not entitled to a certain amount of breaks.

If you do have any problems, your first port of call should be having an informal chat with your employer – if your employer is smart and empathetic enough, most problems can be rectified without too much fuss.

Failing this, you can ring the Pay and Work Rights helpline for more advice, or speak to the Citizen's Advice Bureau.

Have you caught your boss not complying with the rule book? Share your experience in the comments below.

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17 Responses to “The ultimate guide to part-time employment rights for workers”

  1. Luke

    23. Mar, 2017

    In the month of February my employer scheduled me 27 days straight. Plus, took my only off day this week and scheduled me to work

  2. Meg

    14. Mar, 2017

    Hi Jake, my 17yr old daughter got a job in January and was informed she was on a 10 hr per week contract (although we have not been offered any copy of contract) She has been asked into work 5 days per week since starting two months ago, some days from 9.30 – 8pm (11 hour shifts) – last week she had a 30 min lunch break at 3pm and the job demands standing up all day!!) She was instructed by store managers to perform a particular task, but an area manager then said this was wrong and told a supervisor to fire her (although she has now been told they’ll let her know tomorrow …..sometime…..or the day after 😡) I am aware that they have not given her any of her legal employment rights and 11hr days is surely illegal at 17yrs? She has worked so hard for this company and has been scared to say anything with it being her first job (and loving it!!!) have u any advice? Thanks

    • Jake Butler

      15. Mar, 2017

      Hi Meg, first thing would be to get a copy of the contract to see what the terms are. This is the best way to know if the company has abused her rights.

      Whilst the breaks and work hours seem unfair they are within the law from what I can tell. As your daughter is under 18 she is entitled to a 30 minute break but the timing is at the employer’s discretion. She can work 11 hour days legally but there must be at least 12 hours between each day of work and a period of 48 hours in the week without work (should she choose to use it). I think from her only working 5 days and 11 hours a day she has both of these.

      The unfortunate thing is that if she wanted to take it further she’s have to prove all of this. The company may try to find another way to get rid of her within the contract terms.

  3. Julie

    16. Jan, 2017

    My daughter currently works 10 hrs per week whilst still attending school, she has worked for her employer for over a year.

    My question is shouldn’t she be entittled to annual leave?

    She has had to take 20 hrs off before xmas due to an operation and did not get paid for this, any time that has been taken off has never ever been paid nor did her employer once mention she could use annual leave to cover these hours.

    Any help would be greatly appreciated.

    • Jake Butler

      16. Jan, 2017

      Hi Julie, thanks for getting in touch. If your daughter is contracted to 10 hours a week and has been at the job for around a year she should definitely be entitled to some holiday pay. You can use this calculator:

      It may be that the employer will ask that your daughter arrange holidays in advance but it’s worth bringing this up with them or checking the contract.

  4. Julie

    09. Jan, 2017

    I work for 2 hrs a day with another lady but when she is on holiday im expected to cover her 2 hrs with no extra money can they do this

    • Jake Butler

      09. Jan, 2017

      You should be paid for the hours you are working. If you are working these extra 2 hours without getting paid for them then that is illegal.

  5. Alicia

    31. Dec, 2016

    I’m 21 yr old international student and I will be staying in a city for 3 weeks. I’m planning to tour the city and work at the same time. I’ve never worked before. Is a 3 week part time job too short? Would it be weird? Would I be able to choose the days I work so that I can join tours on certain days?

    • Jake Butler

      03. Jan, 2017

      Hi Alicia, it would be possible to get a job like this but it would be extremely difficult.

  6. Adam

    15. Dec, 2016

    I am 17 years old just got a job in a shop part time and they have told me I have to work from 9 to 6 5 days a week is that really part time

    • Jake Butler

      16. Dec, 2016

      That doesn’t sound part time to me. If you aren’t keen on the hours then don’t take the job.

  7. Sian

    30. Apr, 2016

    If my daily working hours are 6.15 and my contract states that if I work more than 6 hours I am entitled to 30 mind unpaid break. Does this mean I get paid for 5.45 hours a day? Would I be best off to work 6 hours a day and not entitled to breaks?

    • Jake Butler

      03. May, 2016

      Hi Sian, I am not actually sure on this. I would recommend seeking advice from your local citizens advice bureau. If your employer will let you work 6 hours without break then I would say go for it. However, they may not allow you to do so.

  8. Helen Carey

    18. Jan, 2016

    Already knew all the information. Learnt it all years ago in school.

  9. Janet

    18. Jan, 2016

    I am currently working on a self employed basis I feel I would be financially better off employed.

  10. veronica

    18. Jan, 2016

    my employer applies to these rules, I am entitled to most things on here.

  11. sarah

    18. Jan, 2016

    My experience of part time work at 17 years of age, I found I didn’t get treated fair.
    They asked me to stay over my hours on numerous occasions, and I felt obliged to do so.
    I didn’t feel like I was paid enough for the work I was doing.
    They gave me the horrible jobs, even though my job title was the same as someone else who didn’t have to do them jobs, as they were older.


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