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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 as a part-time employee? It's time you swotted up!

starbucks mcdonalds topshop part time workers reviewing contract

Credit: (far left) Ken Walter, (top left) Electric Egg, (right) Vytautas Kielaitis, (far right) Wayhome Studio – Shutterstock

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 – 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, as well as what to do if you feel they're being compromised.

How much do part-time workers get paid?

piggy bank

What counts as part-time work?

To be classified as a part-time worker, you have to work fewer hours than someone in full-time work. Didn't see that one coming, we know.

There's actually no set number of hours that makes someone a part-time employee but, basically, a full-time worker will usually work 35 hours a week or a more and a part-time worker will work... well, less than that.

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

There's always a good deal of debate that surrounds the topic of minimum wage rates, especially as the National Minimum Wage is only the same as the National Living Wage for those aged 25 and over.

The bottom line, however, 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. From April 2020 – March 2021, the figures are as follows:

UK National Minimum Wage 2020/21

AgeMinimum wage (per hour)
25+£8.72
21–24£8.20
18–20£6.45
Under 18£4.55
Apprentice£4.15

As you might've noticed, the pay gap between someone working the same job at the age of 20 and 21 is a massive £1.75 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 25 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 – 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 part-time work is taxed

income tax monopoly

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The majority 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 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 £12,500, but it tends to go up each April.

If you earn more than £12,500 a year, you'll be taxed at a rate of 20% on any additional earnings up to and including £50,000. There are a couple of extra tax bands after that, but as this guide is for part-time workers, we'll skip over them for now.

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 which means you'll pay 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 the tax year in which you overpaid. Find out everything you need to know in our guide to paying income tax.

You might be entitled to a tax rebate, but don't give out any personal details unless you're sure you're talking to HMRC! Thousands of students were targetted by a phishing scam based around tax refunds, so beware.

Do interns get paid?

pound coins

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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, 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.

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 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!

Working hours and breaks at work

kit kats split in half

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 KitKats aren't mandatory.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Daily rest – There should always be at least 11 hours between your shifts. 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've worked for more than four-and-a-half hours straight. Your daily rest is also increased to 12 hours and you get 48 hours of weekly rest.

Holiday entitlement for part-time workers

Sex on the beach cocktail

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, also known as holiday 'pro-rata'.

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 can you take annual leave?

Precisely when you take your leave 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 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 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.

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

Part-time workers' rights violations and unfair treatment

woman giving the stop sign

Credit: Prostock-studio – Shutterstock

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 that you're not entitled to a certain amount of time off.

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. 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 rights are being breached, don't keep quiet about it!

Tired of your current part-time job? Check these weird and wonderful jobs you've never even considered!

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