Know Your Rights: at Work

Employment Law

Below you will find the 1st i a series of posts focusing on our rights. This post is focused on workplace rights, we hope to follow this with tenants, claimants and others. This information should not be taken as gospel as the law is subject to regular change! However the aim is to give you a grounding that you can then update and build on. If you feel anything is missing you can comment on this page and we will endeavor to update it! Whats important is that you know how to fight for it! Thats why at the end of this piece there is also some methods to help you ‘Fire your Boss!’

Remember – An organised workplace is stronger than the law ever could be!

Knowing your rights at work, is all about knowing the BASICS and being confidant in them. These basics can be split into five key aspects of employment law –

  1. Contracts and your Employment Status
  2. Your Rights as an individual
  3. Your Collective and Trade Union rights

Its also important that you look into these two areas, not covered in this pack –

  1. Disciplinary and Grievance Procedure
  2. End of Employment – Fair or Not?

Are you Employed or Not?

To establish whether you or not you are an employee, you should consider the key factors listed below. With your partner, who you must now know intimately, work through this list to determine both your positions, so one can be envious of the other!

  • Are you engaged to perform work as an employee (as opposed to being in business for yourself)?
  • Are you carrying out work which is an integral part of the company?
  • Are you working under the direct control of your boss?
  • Do you have to do the work (opposed to having the freedom to choose, without being disciplined)?
  • Does your boss have to find you something to do?
  • Can you pass the work on to someone else or subcontract?
  • Does the company supply you your work gear (tools, uniform)?
  • Do you work exclusively for one company?
  • Have you worked for the same company for a long period of time?
  • Are you paid a regular wage and is it taxed by that company?
  • Do you get company benefits?

Even if your boss tells you that you don’t work for them as an employee a tribunal will find different if you can tick these boxes.

There are other categories…..

       Agency Worker

This means as far as tax and NI insurance goes your agency is your boss, for everything else it is who you are contracted out to, the problem often comes with identifying who your boss is. This is a really complicated area, if you need more advice visit –

Contract Staff/Consultants

This is usually a limited term of employment and can change to full employment given that the worker satisfies many of the criteria.

Office Holders

This mean people elected to a position ether by a popular vote a board or whatever, often the case with company dictators (I mean directors). There are exceptions to this, but this generally holds true. Police and prison officers are counted as office holders this is how they are legally recognised, and therefore do not have rights as a worker.


This tends not to be the position of an employee, more one of people doing business together. However, you can be a ‘salaried partner’ who appears to be a partner on the outside but is little more than a glorified employee.

          Home Workers

Individuals who work from home fall into this category. They often legally count as self-employed or contract staff. Again, this can be overturned if the categories for employment are satisfied.


Those involved in government training schemes do not have the same rights as they do not have a contract with the training body concerned. Other trainees may be though, if they are a part of a company.

These distinctions make little difference now. Since 1994 there is no legal difference based on the amounts of hours you are doing. The main distinction is between casual labour, temporary staff and employees. The main difference being employees have full access to rights and privileges, others do not.

Your Contract.

          Terms of Employment

Although you may not have the right to a contract in writing you do have the right to written terms and conditions of employment. Contracts as such are not rolls of paper sealed with wax, they are often verbal or simply made up of what is custom and practice in your workplace.

There is indeed no legal requirement to provide a contract in writing, as long as a terms of employment are given, or a ‘writen statement of key terms and conditions of employment.’ You have a right to this within 2 months of employment. These cannot overrule your ‘implied rights.’ Ether through common law, or through standard work place practice or the ‘implicit contract.’

Breach of Contract

Once your contract has been signed, or you begin work, both you and your bosses have a responsibility to check the terms of employment are maintained. A breach of these terms can either be a –

–      Breach of expressed terms – breaking the wording of the contract or terms of employment


–      Breach of implied terms – more vague ideas, such as, breaking mutual trust and confidence

Pay, Hours and Time off.

  • The legal minimum hourly wage is:
Age From 1 October 2010
under 18 £3.68
18 – 21 £4.98
Over 21 £6.08
  • You have the right to take breaks – you’re entitled to at least one day off per week, and a 20 minutes rest if the working day is more than 6 hours.
  • You have the right to work a maximum of 48 hours per week. If you want to work more than 48 hours, you and your employer must agree to it in writing first.
  • You have the right to take 5.6 weeks paid holiday per year. This means that if you work 5 days per week, you are entitled to 5 x 5.6 = 28 days of paid holiday per year.
  • You have the right to statutory sick pay when you are ill. To qualify you must be earning at least an average of £97 per week. Statutory sick pay is paid at a fixed rate of £79.15 per week.


Your Rights as an Individual

Sex, Race, Age and Disability Discrimination

The Sex, Race, Age and Disability Discrimination acts define that employers must not discriminate on the basis of sex, race, age or disability directly or indirectly. These Acts also covers an individual’s marital status, suggesting those married or co-habiting should not be treated worse than single people. However, this does not go the other way, if your single, I am afraid you are fair game!

These Acts cover you in several key areas

  • Recruitment, interview etc.
  • Pay
  • Benefits
  • Opportunities for training
  • Access to promotion and transfer
  • Termination of employment, including disciplinary

This is understood in two terms:-

Direct Discrimination – If on discriminatory grounds you are refused work or a promotion etc.

e.g. a job advertisement states ‘men only need apply’ or A manager refuses to employee a man because a particular job is seen as ‘women’s work.’

Indirect Discrimination – As a result of conditions applied by an

Employer; one ‘suffers a detriment’ due to discrimination and therefore is disadvantaged in a tangible way.

Dress and Appearance

Employers have a lot of room to play with when it comes to setting dress codes, however, this cannot be an issue of taste, it must be an evidenced argument and it is the employer’s responsibility to make that argument.

Codes can be different for men and women; however, they cannot be harsher on one than another. For example, allowing men only to wear a company polo shirt and not having restrictions on hair, while demanding women wear certain clothes, wear make-up and maintain certain hair styles would be discrimination.

Rights of Ex-Offenders

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (1974) attempts to deal with discrimination against ex-offenders. The Act means that depending on the severity of the crime and the punishment an employer can no longer take into account an offence after so many years. There are jobs that are exempt from this and a full list is available at –


Discrimination on account of Trade Union or Health and Safety Activity.

All employees have the right to belong to an independent trade union of their choice. You also have the right to demand a safe working environment and cannot be discriminated against for your actions within ether of these areas.

All employees have the right not to be treated unfavourably on the basis of these activities.  Never forget this right; it is at the core of everything we do!


Your Collective and Trade Union Rights


  • Right to membership of a trade union
  • Right to take part in union activities – this means at an ‘appropriate time.’ During work if you’re the recognised union, out of work if not.
  • Representation by your Trade Union
  • During collective agreements
  • Appointment of safety reps
  • No refusal of employment on the grounds of trade union membership
  • Protection for members
  • Protection from action short of dismissal (avoided for training or promotion)
  • Right not to be dismissed on trade union grounds

Strike Law

There is no such thing as a ‘right’ to strike, and doing so is conceded a grievous breach of contract by the law, and your employer can sack you for taking part in it and there is nothing you can do about it. However, it is not that easy for the poor old bosses and his dirty lawyers. This only applies if all strikers have been treated equally across the board! It is illegal for an employer to fire some strikers but not all or to sack all and then reemploy some later.

Secret Ballots

For official strike action there must be a secret postal ballot, your boss informed and it must all be checked over by a solicitor, and lastly 2 weeks’ notice must then be given.

This Where Action Plays its Part!

Fighting the Boss

Methods and Histories


The Slowdown has a long and honorable history. In 1899, the organized dock  workers of Glasgow, Scotland, demanded a 10% increase in wages, but met with refusal by the bosses and went on strike. Strike-breakers were brought in from among the agricultural workers, and the dockers had to acknowledge defeat and return to work under the old wages. But before they went back to work, they heard this from the secretary of their union:

“You are going back to work at the old wage. The

employers have repeated time and again that they were

delighted with the work of the agricultural laborers who

have taken our place for several weeks during the strike.

But we have seen them at work. We have seen that they

could not even walk a vessel and that they dropped half

the merchandise they carried; in short, that two of them

could hardly do the work of one of us. Nevertheless, the

employers have declared themselves enchanted with the

work of these fellows. Well, then, there is nothing for us

to do but the same. Work as the agricultural laborers



This order was obeyed to the letter. After a few days the contractors sent for the union secretary and begged him to tell the dockworkers to work as before, and that they were willing to grant the 10% pay increase. At the turn of the century, a gang of section men working on a railroad in Indiana were notified of a cut in their wages. The workers immediately took their shovels to the blacksmith shop and cut two inches from the scoops. Returning to work they told the boss “short pay, short shovels.”

Or imagine this. BART train operators are allowed to ask for “10-501s” (bathroom breaks) anywhere along the mainline, and Central Control cannot deny them. In reality, this rarely happens. But what would management do if suddenly every train operator began taking extended “10-501s” on each trip they made across the Bay?


Almost every job is covered by a maze of rules, regulations, standing orders, and so on, many of them completely unworkable and generally ignored. Workers often violate orders, resort to their own techniques of doing things, and disregard lines of authority simply to meet the goals of the company. There is often a tacit understanding, even by the managers whose job it is to enforce the rules, that these shortcuts must be taken in order to meet production quotas on time.

But what would happen if each of these rules and regulations were followed to the letter? Confusion would result – production and morale would plummet. And best of all, the workers can’t get in trouble with the tactic because they are, after all, “just following the rules.”

Under nationalization, French railroad strikes were forbidden. Nonetheless, railroad workers found other ways of expressing their grievances. One French law requires the engineer to assure the safety of any bridge over which the train must pass. If after a personal examination he is still doubtful, then he must consult other members of the train crew. Of course, every bridge was so

inspected, every crew was so consulted, and none of the trains ran on time.

In order to gain certain demands without losing their jobs, the Austrian postal workers strictly observed the rule that all mail must be weighed to see if the proper postage was affixed. Formerly they had passed without weighing all those letters and parcels which were clearly underweight, thus living up to the spirit of the regulation but not to its exact wording. By taking each separate

piece of mail to the scales, carefully weighing it, and then returning it to its proper place, the postal workers had the office congested with unweighed mail on the second day.


One of the biggest problems for service industry workers is that many forms of direct action, such as Slowdowns, end up hurting the consumer (mostly fellow workers) more than the boss. One way around this is to provide better or cheaper service — at the boss’ expense, of course.

Workers at Mercy Hospital in France, who were afraid that patients would go untreated if they went on strike, instead refused to file the billing slips for drugs, lab tests, treatments, and therapy. As a result, the patients got better care (since time was being spent caring for them instead of doing paperwork), for free. The hospital’s income was cut in half, and panic-stricken

administrators gave in to all of the workers’ demands after three days.

In 1968, Lisbon bus and train workers gave free rides to all passengers to protest a denial of wage increases. Conductors and drivers arrived for work as usual, but the conductors did not pick up their money satchels. Needless to say, public support was solidly behind these take-no-fare strikers.

In New York City, restaurant workers from the Industrial Workers of the World local I.U. 640, after losing a strike, won some of their demands by heeding the advice of I.W.W. organizers to “pile up the plates, give ’em double helpings, and figure the checks on the low side.”


A strike doesn’t have to be long to be effective. Timed and executed right, a strike can be won in minutes. Such strikes are “sit-downs” when everyone just stops work and sits tight, or “mass grievances” when everybody leaves work to go to the boss’ office to discuss some matter of importance.

The Detroit I.W.W. employed the sit-down to good effect at the Hudson Motor Car Company between 1932 and 1934. “Sit down and watch your pay go up” was the message that rolled down the assembly line on strikers that had been fastened to pieces of work. The steady practice of the sit-down raised wages 100% (from $.75 an hour to $1.50) in the middle of a depression.

I.W.W. theatre extras, facing a 50% pay cut, waited for the right time to strike. The play had 150 extras dressed as Roman soldiers to carry the Queen on and off the stage. When the cue for the Queen’s entrance came, the extras surrounded the Queen and refused to budge until the pay was not only restored, but tripled.

Sit-down occupations are still powerful weapons. In 1980, the KKR Corporation announced that it was going to close its Houdaille plant in Ontario and move it to South Carolina. The workers responded by occupying the plant for two weeks. KKR was forced to negotiate fair terms for the plant closing, including

full pensions, severance pay, and payment towards health insurance premiums.


Unpredictability is a great weapon in the hands of the workers. Pennsylvania teachers used the Selective Strike to great effect in 1991, when they walked a picket line on Monday and Tuesday, reported for work on Wednesday, struck again on Thursday, and reported for work on Friday and Monday. This on-again, off-again tactic not only prevented the administrators from hiring scabs to replace the teachers, but also forced administrators who hadn’t been in a classroom for years to staff the schools while the teachers were out. The tactic was so effective that the Pennsylvania legislature promptly introduced bills that would outlaw selective strikes.



Sometimes simply telling people the truth about what goes on at work can put a lot of pressure on the boss. Consumer industries like restaurants and packing plants are the most vulnerable. And again, as in the case of the Good Work Strike, you’ll be gaining the support of the public, whose patronage can make or break a business.

Whistle Blowing can be as simple as a face-to-face conversation with a customer, or it can be as dramatic as the P.G.&E. engineer who revealed that the blueprints to the Diablo Canyon nuclear reactor had been reversed. Upton Sinclair’s novel The Jungle blew the lid off the scandalous health standards and working conditions of the meat-packing industry when it was published

earlier this century. Waiters can tell their restaurant clients about the various

shortcuts and substitutions that go into creating the faux-haute cuisine being served to them. Just as Work to Rule puts an end to the usual relaxation of standards, Whistle Blowing reveals it for all to know.


The Sick-In is a good way to strike without striking. The idea is to cripple your workplace by having all or most of the workers call in sick on the same day or days. Unlike the formal walkout, it can be used effectively by single departments and work areas, and can often be successfully used even without a formal union organization. It is the traditional method of direct action for public

employee unions, which are legally prevented from striking. At a New England mental hospital, just the thought of a Sick-In got results. A shop steward, talking to a supervisor about a fired union member, casually mentioned that there was a lot of flu going around, and wouldn’t it be too bad if there weren’t enough healthy people to staff the wards. At the same time — completely

by coincidence, of course — dozens of people were calling the personnel office to see how much sick time they had left. The supervisor got the message, and the union member was rehired.



The best way to get something done is simply organize and do it ourselves. Rather than wait for the boss to give in to our demands and institute long-sought change, we often have the power to institute those changes on our own, without the boss’ approval.

The owner of a San Francisco coffeehouse was a poor money manager, and one week the paychecks didn’t arrive. The manager kept assuring the workers that the checks would be coming soon, but eventually the workers took things into their own hands. They began to pay themselves on a day-to-day basis

straight out of the cash register, leaving receipts for the amounts advanced so that everything was on the up-and-up. An uproar ensued, but the checks always arrived on time after that.

In a small printing shop in San Francisco’s financial district, an old decrepit offset press was finally removed from service and pushed to the side of the press room. It was replaced with a brand new machine, and the manager stated his intention to use the old press “for envelopes only.” It began to be cannibalized for spare parts by the press operators, though, just to keep some of the other presses running. Soon enough, it was obvious to everyone but the manager that this press would never see service again. The printers asked the manager to move it upstairs to the storage room, since by now it merely took up valuable space in an already crowded press room. He hemmed and hawed and never seemed to get around to it. Finally, one afternoon after the printers had

punched out for the day, they got a moving dolly and wrestled the press onto the elevator to take it upstairs. The manager found them just as they got it into the elevator, and though he turned livid at this blatant usurpation of his authority, he never mentioned the incident to them.

The space where the press had been was converted to an “employee lounge,” with several chairs and a magazine rack.


Monkey-wrenching is the generic term for a whole host of tricks, deviltry, and assorted nastiness that can remind the boss how much he needs his workers (and how little the workers need him/her). While all these monkey-wrenching tactics are non-violent, most of them are major social no-nos. They should be used only in the most heated of battles, where it is open wholesale class warfare between the workers and the bosses.

Disrupting magnetically-stored information (such as cassette tapes, floppy discs and poorly-shielded hard drives) can be done by exposing them to a strong magnetic field. Of course, it would be just as simple to “misplace” the discs and tapes that contain such vital information. Restaurant workers can buy a bunch of live crickets or mice at the neighborhood pet shop, and liberate

them in a convenient place. For bigger laughs, give the Board of Health an anonymous tip.

One thing that always haunts a strike call is the question of scabs and strike breakers. In a railroad strike in 1886, the scab problem was solved by strikers who took “souvenirs” from work home with them. Oddly enough, the trains wouldn’t run without these small, crucial pieces, and the scabs found themselves with nothing to do. Of course, nowadays, it may be safer for workers to simply hide these pieces in a secure place at the job site, rather than trying to

smuggle them out of the plant.

Use the boss’ letterhead to order a ton of unwanted office supplies and have it delivered to the office. If your company has an 800 number, have all your friends jam the phone lines with angry calls about the current situation. Be creative with your use of SuperGlue. The possibilities are endless.


The best weapon is, of course, organization. If one worker stands up and protests, the bosses will squash him or her like a bug. Squashed bugs are obviously of little use to their families, friends, and social movements in general. But if all the workers stand up together, the boss will have no choice but to take you seriously.

S/he can fire any individual worker who makes a fuss, but s/he might find it difficult to fire their entire workforce. All of the tactics discussed here depend for their success on solidarity, on the coordinated actions of a large number of workers. Individual acts of sabotage offer little more than a fleeting sense of revenge, which may admittedly be all that keeps you sane on a bad day at work. But for a real feeling of collective empowerment, there’s nothing quite like direct action by a large number of disgruntled workers to make your day.



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