Your Rights in Northern Ireland

Your rights at work will depend on:

  • your statutory rights (see below), and
  • your contract of employment (see below).

Your contract of employment cannot take away rights you have by law. So if, for example, you have a contract which states you are only entitled to two weeks' paid holiday per year when, by law, all full-time employees are entitled to 24 days' paid holiday per year, this part of your contract is void and does not apply. The right you have under law (to 24 days' holiday in this case) applies instead.

If your contract gives you greater rights than you have under law, for example, your contract gives you six weeks' paid holiday per year, then your contract applies.

There are special rules about the employment of children and young people. For information about young people and their rights at work in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, see Young people and employment.

Statutory rights

Statutory rights are legal rights based on laws passed by Parliament.

Nearly all workers, regardless of the number of hours per week they work, have certain legal rights. There are some workers who are not entitled to certain statutory rights (see below).

Sometimes an employee only gains a right when they have been employed by their employer for a certain length of time, and when this applies, the length of time before the employee gains the right is listed below. Unless you are in the group of workers who are excluded (see Workers not entitled to certain statutory rights), you will have the following statutory rights:

  • the right to a written statement of terms of employment within two months of starting work, (see under heading Written statement of the main terms and conditions of employment)
  • the right to an itemised pay slip. This applies from the day the employee starts work.
  • the right to be paid at least the national minimum wage. This applies from the day the employee starts work.
  • the right not to have illegal deductions made from pay. This applies from the day the employee starts work.
  • the right to paid holiday. Full-time employees are entitled to at least 24 days a year. Part-time employees are entitled to a pro rata amount
  • the right to time off for trade union duties and activities. This applies from the day the employee starts work. The time off does not necessarily have to be paid. Employees also have the right to be accompanied by a trade union representative to a disciplinary or grievance hearing. If an employee takes part in official industrial action and is dismissed as a result, this will be an automatically unfair dismissal
  • the right to paid time off to look for work if being made redundant. This applies once the employee has worked for two years for that employer
  • the right to time off for study or training for 16-17 year olds. This applies from the day the employee starts work.
  • the right to paid time off for ante natal care. This applies from the day the employee starts work, (see under heading Time off work)
  • the right to paid maternity leave. For more information, see Maternity leave.
  • the right to paid paternity leave
  • the right to ask for flexible working to care for children or adult dependents - see under heading The right to ask for flexible working
  • the right to paid adoption leave
  • the right to ask for flexible working
  • the right to take unpaid parental leave for both men and women (if you have worked for the employer for one year) and the right to reasonable time off to look after dependants in an emergency (applies from the day the employee starts work)
  • the right under Health and Safety law to work a maximum 48 hour working week. This applies from the day the employee starts work
  • the right under Health and Safety law to weekly and daily rest breaks. This applies from the day the employee starts work.There are special rules for night workers
  • the right not to be discriminated against on grounds of sex, race, disability, sexual orientation, age, religion or belief or gender reassignment. This applies from the day the employee starts work. See under heading Harassment and discrimination.
  • the right to carry on working until you are at least 65
  • the right to notice of dismissal, provided you have worked for your employer for at least one calendar month
  • the right to written reasons for dismissal from your employer, provided you have worked for your employer for one year. Women who are pregnant or on maternity leave are entitled to written reasons without having to have worked for any particular length of time
  • the right to claim compensation if unfairly dismissed. In most cases you will have to have worked for one year to be able to claim unfair dismissal
  • the right to claim redundancy pay if made redundant. In most cases you will have to have worked for two years to be able to claim redundancy pay
  • the right not to suffer detriment or dismissal for 'blowing the whistle' on a matter of public concern (malpractice) at the workplace. This applies from the day the employee starts work (see under heading Whistle-blowing at work)
  • the right of a part-time worker to the same contractual rights (pro-rata) as a comparable full-time worker
  • the right of a fixed-term employee to the same contractual rights as a comparable permanent employee.

You may also have additional rights which may be set out in your contract of employment. In particular, a part-time worker's contract should be checked.

If in doubt about whether or not you have any statutory rights you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, you trade union or the Citizens Advice Bureau.

Workers not entitled to certain statutory rights

Some workers are not entitled to some statutory rights. They are:

  • anyone who is not an employee, for example, an agency or freelance worker. However, some workers are entitled to certain rights such as the national minimum wage, limits on working time and other health and safety rights
  • If you are not an employee but an agency/freelance worker, a casual worker, a trainee or self employed, you should seek help from an experienced adviser, for example,your trade union or the Citizens Advice Bureau.
  • employees who normally work outside the UK
  • members of the police service. However, members of the police service are covered by discrimination law
  • members of the armed forces. However, members of the armed forces are covered by discrimination law
  • merchant seamen and share fishermen
  • some workers in the transport industry are not entitled to paid holidays or limits on their working hours by law and have to rely on their contract
  • trainee doctors are not entitled to paid holidays and have to rely on their employment contract. They are also limited to working a 58 hour week, rather than 48 hours.

Enforcing rights at work

If you have a problem with your employer you should usually try to sort it out informally first. If this doesn't work, you should follow the special three-step grievance procedure which all employers are required to have by law. This means you must:

  • send your employer a written statement, setting out your grievance, and give them at least 28 days to respond
  • meet with your employer to discuss your grievance
  • appeal against your employer's decision if you are not happy with it.

If you have followed this procedure and are still not happy with the outcome, you can take your case to an industrial tribunal. You should bear in mind that if you haven't followed the grievance procedure properly first, the tribunal may decide to reduce any compensation it awards you.

Industrial tribunals are legal bodies which deal with complaints about employment rights. A tribunal is made up of a legally qualified employment judge and two other people representing the employer's and the employee's sides of industry. A tribunal can deal with problems on the following:

  • written statement of terms and conditions
  • maternity rights
  • holiday rights
  • itemised pay statement
  • unpaid wages
  • sex discrimination/equal pay
  • race discrimination
  • disability discrimination
  • age discrimination
  • discrimination because of sexual orientation
  • discrimination because of religion or belief
  • some health and safety problems
  • unfair dismissal and redundancy.