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Help for small firms

Help for small firms: Handling pay and wages

Step 1: The basics

Handling pay and wages - Step 1: Understanding the basics

Employment status: There are 3 main types - worker, employee and self-employed.

Generally anyone who is not genuinely self-employed and works for you is a worker or an employee. An employee is someone who works under an employment contract and is usually obliged to work a minimum number of hours per week.

A worker will also work under some form of contract but has fewer employment rights than an employee. However they will usually have fewer obligations to their employer than an employee. For example, casual workers or agency staff can usually decline work offered to them. For more information, go to GOV.UK - Employment status.

Where this guide refers to an 'employee' rather than a 'worker', a worker is not usually covered by that entitlement.

A week's pay: Is the amount of pay a worker is due per week under their contract. A week runs from Sunday through to Saturday. While a worker may not be paid weekly it is important to know what their pay each week is because it will determine whether they are eligible for certain entitlements. For example, statutory sick pay.

If a worker's pay varies from week to week then you must be able to work out what their average week's pay is. This is usually done by using the 12 weeks immediately before the week the calculation is needed. Add up the total amount of pay for the period and divide it by 12 to get an average weekly figure. Any week in which no hours were worked and therefore no pay was due should be replaced with the next week in which they did work. For example, if during the 12-week period an employee did not work and did not receive pay for two weeks you should look at a 14-week period but only use the 12 weeks they worked.

A Written Statement of Terms and Conditions of Employment: Most employees must be given a Written Statement within two months of starting work. It should contain their main terms and conditions including:

  • name of employer and employee
  • date employment started
  • job location
  • pay details
  • working hours
  • holiday entitlement
  • job description/job title

For more information, go to Written Statement - terms and conditions of employment.

The National Minimum Wage (NMW): Most workers are entitled to be paid the NMW. The required rate of pay per hour depends on age and whether they are an apprentice. It usually changes every October. There are no exemptions for small businesses. For more information and the latest rates, go to National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage.

Contractual pay: In addition to the NMW, you must pay your workers in accordance with their contractual terms and conditions. The contracts you agree with your workers are legally binding and you must adhere to the agreed pay arrangements as well as anything else you have specifically agreed.

Equal Pay: Men and women must be treated equally and paid the same rate for doing 'like work', 'work rated as equivalent' or 'work of equal value'. Equal pay includes most terms in an employment contract:

  • basic pay
  • overtime rates
  • performance-related benefits
  • hours of work
  • access to pension schemes
  • non-monetary terms - for example, free gym membership
  • annual leave entitlements.

For more information, go to Equal pay.

Working a 'week in hand': This means a worker receives their week's wage the week after it was earned. For example, if a worker begins a week's work on 1st January and is paid weekly, they would get paid for that week on or before the 14th January not the 7th January. If you use this system then when a worker leaves, they will be entitled to the week in arrears in their final pay.

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