Understanding Your Legal Rights as an Employee

Understanding Your Legal Rights as an Employee

Understanding employment law could save your bacon

By Carl Stanford

Is it legal for your manager to change your job description?

Your manager can’t force you to accept any changes you don’t agree with. Your job description forms part of your contract and terms of employment, and any changes made to this contract must be mutually agreed by both parties. Your employer should explain the reasons for the changes, and give you an opportunity to suggest alternative solutions.

In some cases, your original contract may expressly allow your employer to make changes from time to time. Even in this case, if your manager tried to impose a major or unreasonable change without your agreement, this would likely be illegal.

In extreme cases, you could quit and claim constructive dismissal. Normally, however, an employer will try to reach a compromise agreement with you.

Is it legal for your company put you on retainer indefinitely?

Yes. It’s perfectly legal for a retainer to apply on an ongoing or indefinite basis, as long as you agreed to this.

A retainer is a special kind of contract, whereby you agree to be available or on-call for work in return for payment. Just like any other contract, by agreeing to a retainer you’re accepting all its terms and conditions. A company can’t impose a contract on you unilaterally, nor can it change the conditions of the retainer without your agreement.

Retainers only apply to contractors, not to employees. If you were previously an employee, your company can’t simply put you on retainer without first legally terminating your employment. In such cases you may be entitled to a redundancy payment, and it will be your own choice whether to then sign a retainer contract.

What’s the difference between an employee and a contractor?

A contractor typically enters into a contract with a business to provide a service, working to a pre-agreed timeline. Generally speaking, a contractor has fewer legal rights than an employee, but also fewer obligations and restrictions in the workplace. For example, a contractor could take on work from several clients, and could sub-contract some of their duties to a third party, or even hire staff to complete the work.

Conversely, employees are obliged to carry out their own work duties, but they do usually benefit from employee privileges such as pensions, benefits packages, and various forms of paid leave, not normally offered to contractors.

Can you be forced to work consecutive days until a project is complete?

No. Your next day off can’t be made conditional on the completion of a project.

The law states that every worker has the right to either one day off per week, or a 48-hour break every 2 weeks. Therefore, the maximum number of consecutive days that you can be forced to work is 12. In addition, you can’t be forced to work on a Sunday unless you have agreed to do so in your contract of employment.

If your contract includes more generous limits to your working week and entitlement to rest days, your employer must honour these unless you agree to a change in conditions.

Can an employer legally put his entire staff on 1099 status?

No. An employer can’t compel staff to give up their employment status and then work as self-employed contractors or freelancers.

The term ‘1099 status’ comes from US law, but similar rules apply in the UK. In any situation where an employer wishes to end the contracts of directly-employed staff, they must honour the terms of employment and the legal protections of the employees, including the right to consultation and redundancy pay.

An employee is entitled to voluntarily leave and then enter into a freelance agreement with their former employer, if they wish. However, if they aren’t free to send another person to work on their behalf or to accept work from other clients instead, then they may still be legally entitled to employee status.

How much can an employer monitor your activity at work?

There are limits, of course! Some are general points of law, and others will be set by the conditions of employment you signed up to.

Employers have an obligation to tell employees how they’re being monitored. This could include the monitoring of emails and phone calls, along with CCTV monitoring and security checks at the door. This information must be included as part of your contract or in a staff handbook.

Employers also have obligations under the Data Protection Act regarding any personal information they gather from employees. They must tell you what information they have about you, if you ask. Secret monitoring, or monitoring in private areas such as staff toilets, is almost always illegal.