Know your workplace rights!

Guest blogger, union rep and King’s Careers’ own E-Learning Officer Ben Brown talks about the importance of knowing your rights at work. Let’s explore what you should know in the workplace and what to do if your employer breaks the law.

image of girl saying 'no'When you join a company and you’re young or just out of university, you can feel like there is a need to prove yourself, but this shouldn’t include putting up with bullying, discrimination, or illegal practices. For this reason, it’s important to familiarise yourself with what these bad practices look like and how to deal with them if they arise to ensure your safety and health! Below are a couple of the types of issues some young people might run into in the workplace – and what to do if you come across them.

Workplace & Bullying

Bullying can take many forms, it can be jokes, unwanted comments, being deliberately excluded and in more extreme forms can take the form of sexual harassment, violence & discrimination. While in some cases bullying wouldn’t technically be illegal, in most cases, especially if the bullying is related to a protected characteristic it would be.

Most bigger companies should have their own bullying and harassment policies, so these are worth looking at first is you feel you have faced bullying or harassment. In some cases, you may find it appropriate to speak to your manager, a member of HR or someone more senior. If you don’t feel comfortable doing that try speaking to a union representative or try and find a colleague you trust at the organisation you can talk to about it and attempt to resolve the situation informally.

If things are not going as well as you hoped, it might feel daunting and stressful. In these moments its good to seek support and build resilience. Explore our Resilience Guide on Keats to find out more. 

If you have gone down the informal routes of talking to your manager and HR and there hasn’t been sufficient change, or you don’t feel comfortable with that, the next step you may wish to pursue is taking out a grievance. This is a formal procedure where the situation will be investigated by HR – it’s worth saying that grievance procedures can be rather time-consuming and complicated however you may feel it’s necessary depending on your own circumstances. You can read more about grievance procedures here

A key tip if you are feeling bullied is to document it. Any emails that give evidence of bullying make sure they are secure, any conversations or 1 to 1 meeting you have with the bully ensure are documented by taking a notepad and trying your best to write down everything that is said in the meeting. These can all be used as evidence if the case is taken further.


Photo of a round, silver watch lying sidewaysWorking Hours

The absolute maximum you can legally work for a business in a week is 48 hours (with a very small number of exceptions), this can be opted out of, but you should never feel coerced into working more than that. There is also a required minimum break of 11 hours between shifts, so if you finish a shift at 11pm your employer cannot legally ask you to be in at 6am for example.

If you are working more than 6 hours, you’re entitled to a minimum of a 20-minute break, although this may not be paid. If you are being forced to work more than 48 hours and you are not a special exception you may be entitled to take your employer to a tribunal, read more about working hour breaches here.


Trade Unions

It is illegal to prevent someone from joining, advocating for, forming a trade union. High profile cases of discrimination based on trade union membership have been taken in the past, where employers have ‘blacklisted’ employees which have resulted in workers being awarded millions in damages[1].

Want to know more about trade unions and how they can help graduates at work? Ben’s previous blog about Trade Unions explores all about this! 


What else can you do if you feel your company is being discriminatory or exploitative?

The first thing you can do is speak to your colleagues, in a lot of cases bad bosses depend on staff feeling alienated in their workplaces to ensure they feel unable to change their situation. By speaking to others to see if they have been victims of unfair labour practices you are both building up a network of support and if it is the case that you feel you need to take a matter further, collective grievances can carry more weight than an individual grievance.


Further reading

For more information check out these websites:

Government advice pages for workplace bullying and harassment

Citizenadvice support pages on rights at work

The TUC advice on dealing with problems at work