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Jobs & Careers

Part-time workers’ rights for employment

Getting a job in the first place is normally the tricky bit, but what rights do you have as a part-time employee? Here are the key things to know.

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Finding a part-time job is a tough enough ask on its own. But if you've managed to land yourself a gig (congrats!), ask yourself: are you clued up on what you're entitled to in terms of holiday pay, sick leave and work breaks?

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

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

How much do part-time workers get paid?

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How many hours is part-time?

To be classified as a part-time worker in the UK, you have to work fewer hours than someone in full-time work.

There's actually no set number of hours that makes someone a part-time employee. But, since a full-time worker usually works 35 hours a week or more, anything less than that counts as part-time hours.

What's the minimum wage for part-time workers?

There's always some debate surrounding the topic of minimum wage rates, especially as the National Minimum Wage is only the same as the National Living Wage for those aged 21 and over.

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 will depend on how old you are.

The National Minimum Wage goes up every year but varies by age. From April 2024 – March 2025, the figures are as follows:

UK National Minimum Wage 2024/25

AgeMinimum wage (per hour)
21+ (National Living Wage)£11.44
Under 18£6.40

As you might've noticed, the pay gap between someone working the same job at the age of 20 and 21 is a massive £2.84 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 (equivalent to the Living Wage if you're 21 or older). This is the case regardless of how many hours you work during the week, so don't accept anything less.

To clarify, you're entitled to the same amount of money 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 than the National Minimum Wage is breaking the law.

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

How part-time work is taxed

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So, do part-time workers pay tax in the UK? It depends on how much you earn.

A lot of students working part-time won't earn enough in a single year to have to pay tax on their wages. But if you do earn over the threshold, you'll have to cough up.

Everyone in the UK gets a Personal Allowance (the amount you can earn in a year before you get taxed). This figure is reassessed annually – currently, it's set at £12,570.

If you earn more than £12,570 a year, you'll be taxed at a rate of 20% on any additional earnings up to and including £50,270.

There are a couple of extra tax bands after that. We go through them all in our full guide to paying taxes.

Income tax for part-time work

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

When you're first employed, you might be put on an emergency tax code. This means you'll pay more tax than you probably need to. If this is the case, call HMRC to sort this out so you're not overpaying.

Thankfully, you can claim back tax that was wrongly deducted up to four years after the end of the tax year in which you overpaid.

You might be entitled to a tax rebate, but don't give out personal details unless you're sure you're talking to HMRC. Some students have been targeted by a phishing scam based on tax refunds, so beware.

Do interns get paid in the UK?

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Unpaid internships are a contentious subject, and the law surrounding them can be a real grey area. MPs have pushed for unpaid internships to be made illegal in the UK in the past, but to no avail (although we won't give up hope!).

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

Basically, anyone classed as a 'worker' is entitled to employment rights, including 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.

Difference between being an intern and an employee

You will generally be classified as a worker or employee if:

  • You have a contract or agreement to do work or services for a reward. This doesn't necessarily have to be a written document.
  • This reward could be money, but it may just be the promise of future work.
  • Your employer has to have work for you to do for the length of your contract.

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

Otherwise, court cases seem to suggest that anyone doing work that has 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.

Read 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!

Working hours and breaks at work

You're legally entitled to some rest and breaks throughout your shift. Sadly, though, it's up to your employer whether you get paid for breaks.

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

How many hours do you have to work to get a break?

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

  1. Rest breaks – If you work more than six hours a day, you should have at least one uninterrupted rest break of 20 minutes. That's essentially your lunch break, a chance to pop to the shops or enough time to grab a cup of tea.
  2. Daily rest – The legal amount of time between shifts in the UK is 11 hours. In other words, if you finish a shift at 9pm, you shouldn't be on the rota again until 8am the next day.
  3. 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 four and a half hours in a day. Your daily rest is also increased to 12 hours and you get 48 hours of weekly rest.

Holiday entitlement for part-time workers

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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.

Part-time workers are entitled to a proportion of those 5.6 weeks, depending on how many days/hours they work, also known as holiday 'pro-rata'.

It's fairly simple to work out how much you're entitled to. The government has a holiday entitlement calculator tool.

And, before you ask – your holiday entitlement may or may not include bank holidays. It's up to your employer to decide, so check whether your holiday allowance includes bank holidays before booking any holidays.

When can you take annual leave?

Precisely when you take your leave is down to you and your employer. It's all about coming to an agreement that suits you both.

It can get a bit tricky when you're a student, as you'll probably want to use holidays to go home over Christmas and during exam times. 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. This means some employers might even impose holiday blackout periods (where no employee can take a holiday).

Similarly, employers can stipulate that you have to take your holiday at certain times of the year when business is quieter.

In short, your employer must give you the option of taking a set number of days off each year, but there are no set rules regarding when and how many days off you can have in a row.

Part-time workers' rights violations and unfair treatment

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. However, 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 time off.

If you have any problems, your first port of call should be an informal chat with your employer. With smart and empathetic managers, most problems can be rectified without much fuss.

Failing this, you can ring the pay and work rights helpline for more advice or speak to Citizens Advice. You might even be able to bring your case to an employment tribunal if the allegation is serious enough and you don't feel like the unfair treatment has been justified or rectified.

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

Tired of your current part-time job? Check out these unusual jobs you've (probably) never considered.

Jake Butler

WRITTEN BY Jake Butler

Jake joined Save the Student in 2010 and is the COO. As an expert across student finance, Jake has appeared on The BBC, The Guardian, Which?, ITV, Channel 5 and many other outlets. He particularly enjoys sharing tips on saving money and making extra money with opportunities like paid surveys and part-time jobs.
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