Jobs & Careers

Employment rights for part-time workers

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 swotted up!

employment rights for part time workers

Finding 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 swot up on their rights – despite there 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 faces

There's always a good deal of debate that surrounds the topic of minimum wage rates, and it 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 goes up every year, but varies by age. The current rates for 2018/19 are:

  • 25 and over – £7.83 per hour (up 33p on last year)
  • 21 and over  £7.38 per hour (up 33p on last year)
  • Between 18 and 20  £5.90 per hour (up 30p on last year)
  • Under 18  £4.20 per hour (up 15p on last year)
  • Apprenticeship min.  £3.70 (up 20p 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 £1.48 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 breaks the law sometimes!

After more than the minimum wage? Check out the best paid part-time student jobs.

How many holidays am I entitled to?

part time holiday entitlement

All 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 simple to work out how much you're entitled to, and this holiday entitlement calculator tool 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?


Working is hard... erm... 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've worked 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 £11,500.

If you earn more than £11,500 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 HMRC to sort this out so you're not overpaying.

Thankfully, you can also claim back tax that you've wrongly had deducted up to four years after the end of tax year in which you overpaid. Find out everything you need to know in our guide to paying income tax.

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

The deal with unpaid internships

Unpaid internships studentCredit: Joel Gillman - Flickr

Unpaid 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" or "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

how to to report employment rights problem

Most employers, especially larger companies, are fully aware of what you're entitled to and will stick rigidly to the rules (because 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 they're 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.

In short, if you think your rights are being breached, don't keep quiet about it!

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

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