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United Kingdom (UK) - Employment Terms and Conditions

Employment terms and conditions are set by employers under the supervision of the Employment Act 1996. In 2013, the UK legislature made changes to the 1996 Act which are to be enforced from 2014 onwards. Employees have a maximum of 48 working hours allowed by law. Employers cannot force anyone to work more than 48 hours a week and there is also an opt-out allowance. There are some exceptions to the number of hours one can work, and it can be any time of the day or night as long as the 48 hours are not exceeded.

Exceptions to the 48 Hour Rule

Managers have the option of being in control of their hours and can work longer hours. Armed forces, police, and emergency services in certain circumstances can be required to work more than 48 hours in a week. Domestic servants, security and surveillance, and places with 24 hour staffing might have to work over 48 hours a week. Individuals who work on ships that run on the inland waterways may also be exempt from the 48 hour rule.

There is an opt-out option in which anyone over the age of 18 can decide that they want to work more than 48 hours per week. If this option is chosen, the contract must state the time period during which it is enforceable, and the employee must sign the contract. Workers are allowed to cancel the opt-out clause at any time, but must give seven days’ notice.

Leave Benefits

Sick pay, holiday pay, and maternity leave are three types of paid leave. There are always exceptions to sick pay in that an employer does not have to offer it. If an employer offers a sick pay package, then the amount a person is paid is typically based on their salary.

Sick pay usually comes with the request that the person provide a doctor’s note indicating they were too ill to work for the time they were not at work. If a person is off work for 4 days or more, then a note is definitely needed and there is potential of being paid Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) for up to 28 weeks. Serious illness is covered under SSP. All other sick pay options, such as covering one or two days off for being ill, are determined by the employer.

UK employment laws state that workers are entitled to 5.6 weeks of paid holiday leave in a calendar year. An employer can count any bank holiday as part of this leave time. The law also states that any employee who works five days a week should receive 28 days of paid leave per year. Part time workers are entitled to the same 5.6 weeks, however the leave is often less because part time workers are paid for a smaller number of hours during a week.

Bank or public holidays do not have to be included in holiday leave; this decision is left up to the employer. There are eight bank holidays in a typical year for England and Wales. Scotland has nine bank holidays and Northern Ireland has ten.

Maternity Leave

Maternity allowance is paid for those who do not qualify for Statutory Maternity Pay. This means there are two ways a person can get paid for maternity. It is possible to obtain pay for up to 39 weeks. The pay is 90% of an average salary or £136.78 per week. Maternity Allowance is given to those who are pregnant for 26 weeks, and the payment can start 11 weeks before the baby is due. There are plans to allow men to share maternity leave with the mother; at present, men are entitled to just a few weeks’ paternity leave.

Company Pension Schemes

Any employer can offer workplace pensions, but not every place will have a package on offer. Expats may not be able to take advantage of the pension schemes if they are temporary workers. Typically, pension schemes are set up for the benefit of full-time employees. A pension scheme works by putting a percentage of earnings into a pension account. The money is added to the account as long as a person works. The government can also add to the pension account to increase the amount of income one has at retirement. There is an option of taking a lump sum tax-free upon retiring. The amount that is untaxed is 25% of the total. The rest will require taxes paid through the Income Tax sheet. Money cannot be taken out of a pension until a person is 55, unless they have a serious illness.

Retirement age has changed from 65, although this is still considered the default age. The age for accessing a state pension ranges from 61 to 68. Retirement age was phased out for most workers due to the need to work longer and gain more income now that people are living longer.

Unions and Membership Options

Trade unions are available to join and are still fairly common among certain industries like teachers, miners, and rail workers. There is nothing wrong with joining a union in these industries and in most cases it will be compulsory in order to protect workers’ rights and ensure big changes to companies do not mean a loss of job. Unions can also protect employees from unfair redundancy.


Employers have the right to put an employee on a trial period, in which notice of termination has to be given. During the first 30 to 90 days of employment, an employee is on a trial period. Once that period is over, a formal offer of employment outlining the full time contract should be signed. This contract can include redundancy in which an employer can offer a more suitable position in the company to a worker should the job they were hired for not be suited to their skills. Redundancy was started in order to protect against unfair dismissal.

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