Acas uses cookies to ensure we give you the best experience and to make the site simpler. Find out more about cookies.

Website URL : http://www.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=5818

New to work

When you're relatively new to the workplace, it's not always clear what your rights and responsibilities are in your organisation. You may have heard different things from friends or colleagues, and you may not know where to go to get answers.

You may find yourself coming across issues for the first time: such as dealing with problems at work, asking for time off, or dealing with changes to your contract.

Some workplace challenges affect younger workers more than other groups. For example, workers between 16-24 are three times more likely to be on zero hours contracts than workers of other ages. According to the TUC, nearly a fifth of younger workers want more hours than they currently have. They may be juggling multiple part-time jobs, or balancing work and study. Many younger workers are also keen to develop their skills and experience, and may be taking part in workplace training or working as part of a course or apprenticeship.

Key points

  • Make sure you receive a written statement with details of your job within the first two months of starting.
  • You will be entitled to at least the National Minimum Wage rate of pay - this rate will depend on your age.
  • Remember that you still represent your organisation even when you're not working, so be careful on social media.
  • If you're having problems at work try to talk to someone and get the issue resolved.

Types of contract

Regardless of whether you have a written contract, you have certain basic rights, for example, the right to holidays, the right to be paid at least the National Minimum Wage for your age band, and the right to rest breaks.

Some people might assume that a contract of employment consists of only those things that are set out in writing between an employer and an employee. It's true that many of the main issues, such as pay and holidays, are usually agreed in writing.

But contracts are also made up of terms that have not been spelt out. This is either because they are:

  • too obvious to mention: for example, you would not expect a contract to say that 'an employee will not steal from an employer'.
  • necessary to make the contract work: for example, if you are employed as a driver it is assumed that you have a valid driving license.
  • custom and practice: some terms of a contract can become established over time.

Although a contract can be on oral agreement, it is best to put a contract in writing - it saves a lot of potential misunderstanding further down the line. In Acas' experience simple misunderstandings over what is or what is not in a contract are one of the main causes of employment tribunal claims.

Some types of contract have special characteristics.

  • Apprenticeships are a type of job which combines work with training. It's usually a three-way contract between the apprentice, employer, and an accredited training provider like a college.
  • A zero hours contract means you don't have fixed hours. Your employer doesn't have to offer you work, and you don't have to accept work offered. People on zero hours contracts are classed as workers, and have different rights to employees.

You have a right to be given a written statement of employment particulars explaining the main terms of your employment once you have worked somewhere for two months. If your employer wants to vary the terms of your contract, for example, the hours you do or your pay, they should discuss this with you so you can agree to any changes.

Don't forget

  • Every employee and worker has certain legal rights, even if they don't have a written contract.
  • Some types of contract, such as apprenticeship agreements and zero hours contracts, have special characteristics.
  • Contracts are two-sided; make sure you're happy with what your employer is asking of you before you start work.
  • Even if you haven't signed a contract, there is a good chance it will still be binding if you've been working without challenging the terms.

Resources that will help you

The National Minimum Wage

Every worker is entitled to be paid at least the National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage for their age band. There are no exclusions for part-time workers, zero hours workers, or people in specific industries. Your rate of pay can be made up of a number of different elements. For example, if you get commission, your employer can include this as well as your basic salary when calculating whether you are being paid the minimum wage. However, some types of "top-up", like shift premiums for working weekends, can't be included. This can be a complicated area of law. If you are unsure whether your employer is paying you the national minimum wage, check the latest National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage rates.

Don't forget

  • You are entitled to at least the National Minimum Wage for your age band, or the National Living Wage if you are over 25.
  • You are legally entitled to pay slips showing your wage and any deductions, so you can check that you're being paid correctly.

Resources that will help you

Training

When you're new to a role, your employer may send you on training courses to gain skills or qualifications. You have the right to be paid for this kind of training as though it were normal working time. You may also choose to do additional study outside work in order to learn more or develop your skills. If you are choosing to do relevant study or training in your spare time, you can ask your employer for time off work to help with this. You may also be able to request flexible working to help manage your time, for example having a certain day off each week or compressing your hours so you can work 4 days instead of 5.

Don't forget

  • If your employer sends you on a compulsory training course, you have the right to be paid for the time spent on the course.
  • If your employer agrees to pay for your training, it's a good idea to check your contract to see if they expect you to pay back costs if you leave your job.
  • You have the right to ask for time off work to do additional training that will help you in your role, though your employer doesn't have to agree to it.
  • If you need to change your hours because of study or other commitments, you have the right to request flexible working.

Social media and behaviour outside of work

Even if your contract doesn't say anything about a particular issue, you should still think carefully about your behaviour outside of work. Many employers will expect you to behave in a way that doesn't reflect badly on the company in your free time. For example, company policy may not say you can't discuss your work on social media, but complaining about your colleagues on Facebook could still amount to misconduct.

Similarly, if you break the law or abuse alcohol or recreational drugs, your employer could discipline you if they think it might harm your suitability for the role. When in doubt, ask what the company's policy is on this.

Don't forget

  • Your contract may not cover all possible situations. Think about what image your activity on social media and behaviour outside of work project.
  • Your employer can take disciplinary action as a result of behaviour outside of working hours if they think it could reflect badly on the company.
  • Once comments have been made online, about your organisation, colleagues or manager, they are very hard to delete. It's also hard to make sure your social media profiles are completely private.
  • Breaking the law, abusing drugs or alcohol, or behaving inappropriately outside of work can all be grounds for an employer to have a formal conversation with you.

Problems at work

Communication is the backbone of work relationships. If you're struggling with any issues at work, bringing it up with your manager or HR department is likely to be your first step. Your employer can't fix problems if they don't know about them. It can be intimidating to bring up concerns with your manager, but in many cases an informal chat is all that is needed to resolve a problem.

If your employer decides to take you through a disciplinary procedure, you have the right to bring a colleague or trade union rep to support you. You should also be told in advance what the possible outcome of the hearing might be.

You can get advice from the Acas website or use our Helpline Online service.

Don't forget

  • Think about raising issues before they become big problems. If you don't feel you can talk to your line manager, think about approaching another senior manager or the HR department.
  • If you are asked to a grievance or disciplinary meeting, you have the right to bring a colleague or trade union rep.
  • If the incident is serious enough, an employer doesn't have to escalate through different levels of warnings before going to a disciplinary or dismissal.

Trade Unions

When you start your new job you may want to join, or be asked to join, a Trade Union. Trade Unions are organisations that represent people at work and aim to make workplaces better. Trade Unions are able to offer people who join advice and support on a range of things that might happen at work, for example if you're not getting paid properly, or being treated unfairly or if you just want to check a detail about your contract.

There are lots of different types of Trade Unions so it can be a bit confusing knowing which one to join, but often people join a particular Union because of the type of job they do or type of workplace they are in.

Sickness and Absence

Absence levels can be a big problem for employers as they have to find cover for shifts and may struggle to continue to run the business. So if you need time off make sure you book it in advance rather than just not turning up to work.

Obviously if you are sick and need to take time off this can't be planned in advance. In these cases make sure you know what the organisation's sickness policy is. Generally this involves phoning or emailing in sick to a certain person by a certain time on the day that you are off - each organisation will have a slightly different policy so it's best to check it out and make sure you follow it.

Don't forget

  • Always let your employer know as soon as possible if you're going to miss work.
  • Check your staff handbook or ask your manager if there is a specific procedure you should follow.
  • Your employer may have set limits or trigger points for the number of absences you can have so find out what they are.

Resources that will help you

Leaving a Job

If you decide you want to leave your job there are a number of actions you have to take to resign properly, it's not advisable to just walk out. If you have one, check your contract of employment to see if it covers notice periods - this is the amount of time you have to work after you tell your employer you want to leave. You must give at least a week's notice if you have been in your job for more than a month. Some contracts can specify longer periods which is why it is a good idea to check.

Don't forget

  • Check your contract to find out your notice period. If you don't have a written contract or it doesn't give a notice period, this will usually be one week.
  • Your employer doesn't have to give you a reference, but if they do, it has to be factual and not misleading. If you're concerned, consider asking your manager or HR if you can discuss what they'll write.