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Frequently asked questions: employee rights.

In this short blog, we answer some of the most frequently asked employee rights questions:

1. My employer tells me that I need to take my medical appointments outside working hours – what are my rights?

Your employer is not obliged to allow you to take time off for routine medical or dental appointments. Some employers are very flexible, whilst others may ask that you make these appointments out of office hours or on your days off. In some cases employers will either ask you to make the time up, not pay you for the time or ask you to take it from your holiday allowance.

It is more complicated if you are either pregnant or suffer from a disability. Pregnant women have the right to time off for antenatal care and if you suffer from a disability then it would be a reasonable adjustment to allow you to get medical help and keep appointments.

2. I’ve been told by my employer that I can’t have my personal mobile phone on my desk whilst at work. Is that fair?

They can do this, but a better approach is for your employer to have a fair and coherent policy on mobile telephones and when and for what purposes they can be used. On the one hand they are rarely part of our work routine, unless you travel around a lot, but on the other hand they can be useful for staying in touch with family and friends. The counterpoint is that many employees use their mobile smart phones out of office hours to help their employers by staying in touch with customers and so forth.

It’s a complicated discussion; recent research from the US suggests that employees spent almost an hour per day on their mobile phones on non work related matters, so it’s a matter everyone needs to be careful and sensible about.

3. My child has been ill, and I’ve had to take time off to look after them. My employer is refusing to accept my offer to make the time up and won’t pay me for the days I’ve had off. Can they do that?

This depends on the circumstances. If there was an emergency, an unforeseen and unplanned event, then you can take unpaid time off to look after your dependants (which includes your children). Alternatively, if it was a planned event, for example recuperation after a stay in hospital, then you do not have the right to automatically take time off. Some employers will make provision in their staff hand books for compassionate leave to cover these non-emergency events.

4. I believe that a male colleague who has the same job as me is getting paid more – what should I do?

The law provides that men and women should be paid equal pay for equal work. This covers individuals in the same employment and includes equality in pay and all other contractual terms. A woman can claim equal pay with a man working for the same employer at the same workplace, for the same employer but at a different workplace or for an associated employer.

You should first raise your concerns with your human resources Department by setting out the facts and asking them the question. If you cannot sort the matter out internally, perhaps resorting to your grievance procedure, then you have the right to make a claim to the employment tribunal under the terms of the Equality Act 2010.

5. I was recently overlooked for a promotion and the job went to a colleague with similar experience to me. I think it’s because it’s common knowledge around the office that I’m trying for a baby. What should I do?

If that is correct it is a clear example of direct sex discrimination. The Equality Act 2010 explains that gender is one of eight protected characteristics. Treating one gender less favourably than the other is an act of discrimination. Only women can become pregnant and if it is the case that you were passed over for promotion because you are trying for a family then that is an act of discrimination .

You should first discuss the matter informally with your human resources department who may explain to you that there were in fact other reasons why you were not promoted. If you are not satisfied with your dialogue then you could consider bringing a formal grievance procedure and ultimately you could go to the employment tribunal and seek compensation.

6. I’ve run out of holiday but really need to take some extra days off to help my parents move to a new house – am I entitled to them?

No. Whilst it is possible that your parents are your dependants, so that you have a  right to take time off to help them in emergencies, this is not an emergency but a planned event. It is no different to helping out a friend with moving home. I am afraid you’re going to have to fit this in at the weekend.

7. There is about to be a redundancy consultation at work and I’ve had several months off work undergoing cancer treatment. I’m back at work now but I’m worried that my poor sickness record will go against me – what should I do?

The Equality Act 2010 will protect your position. It is unlawful to discriminate against people with a disability, which normally means a mental or physical impairment which lasts for more than a year and hinders you in carrying out your day to day activities. In the case of cancer this is a “day one” disability which means that you have protection from the moment that your cancer is diagnosed. So your employer has to make reasonable adjustments in its dealings with you.

A reasonable adjustment in the case of selecting employees for possible redundancy is that then when they consider your sickness record  as part of their selection criteria they should discount all time that you have taken off in connection with your cancer treatment.

8. I’ve got a new job but my old employer is refusing to give me a reference. Can they do this?

Employers are not obliged to give references . Their only obligation is to give a fair and accurate reference if they give one at all. But you are not missing out on much. These days most employers only give a brief pro forma reference confirming dates of employment and tasks undertaken. I am surprised that your employer is not prepared to do this for you, but it is now rare for them to give longer valedictory references.

9. I’ve been told that I don’t dress smartly enough for work and I don’t see why I should spend my disposable income on work clothes? What are my obligations as an employee?

You have to comply with the terms of your employer’s staff handbook or their custom and practice. Many employers in an office environment like to set a tone where they require staff to dress smartly, with men in a suit and perhaps a tie and women wearing a smart dress or trousers. Sometimes this can be restricted to when employees are meeting customers. In other professions you can be required to wear suitable protective clothing to comply with obligations such as health and safety.

You can discuss with your employer what does or does not amount to smart attire but its probably going to exclude jeans and t shirts, no matter how attached you are to them.

10. I’ve struck up a relationship with someone from work – can I be sacked?

Only if that’s what your company rules say. Which is a shame, because so many people meet their partner at work . There are good reasons. Sometimes senior members of staff can be seen to be abusing their position and behaving in a way tantamount to harassment and banning relationships in the workplace prevents this kind of behaviour, albeit that you may see it as a sledgehammer to crack a nut. If a relationship does form then other employees can be resentful and concerned that their colleague is getting favourable treatment because of their new relationship; discerning policies only prevent relationships where they are formed with someone in a bosses chain of command.


These scenarios and answers are for guidance purposes only. If you are experiencing any employment law issues please get in touch so that we can talk about your own situation in more detail and advise you appropriately.

Tel: 0114 225 6666
Email: info@shulaw.co.uk


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