Rights and responsibilities at work

Just starting a job? Here are some useful words and phrases to describe your rights and responsibilities at work.

Most employees and employers will sign a contract, which sets out terms and conditions, salary and holiday entitlements, along with procedures forgrievances or dismissal. As contracts are legally binding, both sides should comply with these procedures and with the terms of the contract.

In some countries there is minimum wage legislation (meaning workers cannot be paid under this limit), as well as health and safety laws to protect employees from industrial and workplace accidents. Many workers (though often not those in “sensitive” sectors) can join a union, which (in return for an annual membership fee) will help to protect the workers’ rights and will negotiate pay increases for its members, or ballot (organise) strikes.

Over the last 100 years or so, workers, unions and politicians have fought for an increasing number of rights, such asanti-discrimination (making it illegal for employers to discriminate against workers on the basis of their gender, religion, sexuality or disability); maternity (and paternity) leavesick leave, and pension contributions. Some practices (such as child labour) are illegal in many countries, although the fight against exploitation still continues. A big issue now in the UK is that of unpaid internships (where graduates work for nothing except the chance to gain experience).

If employers fall foul of employment law (i.e. break the law), employees can take their employers to court to win damages. For example, this could occur for cases of unfair dismissal (illegally sacking someone), or constructive dismissal (where the employee is forced to resign).

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