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10 things employers say to mislead workers about their rights


Asking people to go self-employed to keep their jobs, telling agency staff they don’t get sick pay and suggesting pregnant staff cut their hours are among the things some employers say to try and find ways around workers’ rights, Citizens Advice can reveal.

The charity has identified 10 common things that some employers say to try and mislead people about their rights.

In the 12 months to April, 180,000 people across England and Wales came to Citizens Advice for help with a problem at work and its online employment advice pages were viewed 9.3 million times.

People were most likely to approach the charity for advice on:

  • Pay and entitlements, such as sick pay
  • Contract terms and conditions, such as whether they were workers or self-employed
  • Dismissal

All employees are entitled to basic rights such as national minimum wage, sick pay, holiday pay and fair treatment during pregnancy.

However, issues such as contract types and unclear employment status can leave workers unsure about what they’re entitled to, and allow unscrupulous employers to find ways of depriving them of pay and protections.

Hitesh Patel, Chief Executive of local branch Citizens Advice Halton said:

“Last year we gave employment rights advice to 345 local people who were experiencing problems at work of which nearly 50% wanted advice about their rights in relation to their pay and terms and conditions of employment.

“Bad bosses are denying people their rights, often for their own gain. People with complex work arrangements or those whose circumstances change can be unsure about their rights, with unscrupulous employers using the opportunity to mislead them about how they should be treated.

“Anyone who is being refused pay and protections should seek advice straight away, to help them clarify their rights and how they can raise the issue with their boss.

“For people who can’t reach a resolution with their employer, it can be hard to work out who to report the problem to and what to do next.  Citizens Advice wants the Government to create a single Fair Work Authority to make it easier for people to get the rights they’re entitled to by clamping down on illegal business practice.”

Cllr Eddie Jones, Halton BC Executive Board member for Economic Development added:

“The vast majority of businesses in Halton are good employers but it’s sad that we still hear complaints from local residents about the way they have been treated in the work place.  

In the current economic climate I understand employees don’t want to challenge their employer for fear of losing their job but there are strict laws governing your statutory rights, for example your right to the minimum wage and especially your rights if you are pregnant.  I would urge anyone with these unfair experiences to get advice straight away.”

In May 2017, Citizens Advice revealed that half of people on zero hours contracts and 2 in 5 temporary workers wrongly thought they weren’t entitled to holiday pay.

Now the charity is exposing 10 things employers say that attempt to undermine people’s rights and setting the record straight on how they should be treated.

10 things your boss shouldn’t say

If you hear any of these, get advice:

  1. “You work for us, but you’ll need to pay your own national insurance contributions.”
  2. “We can’t afford to pay you any more – you’ll have to go self-employed.”

Being asked to pay your own national insurance or to go self-employed when nothing has changed are signs of ‘bogus self-employment’ – where your boss claims you are self-employed but you’re not.

This saves employers money as they don’t pay national insurance on your wage – or need to pay you minimum wage, holiday pay, sick pay or maternity pay either. Check your employment status – if you think you are an employee, ask to be treated like one. Get advice on how to approach the conversation.

3. “Your disability means you don’t do as much work as others, so we’re not going to pay you minimum wage.

4. “You were traveling between clients – so we didn’t pay you for those hours.”

Every employee should get national minimum wage, and you should be paid for all the time you spend at work. HMRC can help resolve problems with underpayment – Citizens Advice can guide you on next steps.

5.  “You’re pregnant? Great! But we’re worried you won’t cope so we’re cutting your hours.”

6.  “You’re having a baby next year? We’ll need to take you off that important project now.”

Your working arrangements during pregnancy should stay the same unless you ask for a change – any changes imposed on you are discrimination. Let your boss know that you want to continue work as normal, and if they insist on changes get advice.

7.  “We don’t have to pay you redundancy pay because you’re on a zero hours contract.”

Wrong – some zero hours workers are entitled to redundancy pay. You need to have been working for your employer for two years or more, usually doing at least one shift a week. Citizens Advice can help you work out if you qualify.

8.  “We need to close for the next two days for stock taking, so you’ll need to take holiday.”

If your employer needs you to take holiday, they should give you twice as much notice as the length of holiday needed.  If you aren’t given proper notice, you should be paid and not asked to use leave.  ACAS can liaise with both parties to resolve problems with leave if a discussion with your employer doesn’t work.

9.  “You work through an agency, so you don’t get sick pay.”

Agency workers should be paid sick pay by the agency.  Check if you qualify for sick pay and work out your next steps.

10. “We took you off the rota, so we don’t owe you sick pay.”

If you’ve already agreed to work the hours and you’ve been absent long enough to qualify, you should get sick pay.

Citizens Advice top tips for tackling problems at work

  1. Keep evidence – keep hold of letters, payslips, emails and texts, and note down a record of conversations you’ve had which could be used to support your case.
  2. Talk to your boss  – problems may arise from honest mistakes or misunderstanding the law. If you don’t feel confident having a conversation one to one, ask a colleague or Union rep to join you.
  3. Have a more formal discussion – if the issue isn’t resolved with an informal conversation, the next step is to raise a written grievance which should give you the chance to discuss your issue formally. ACAS has guidance on what to do.
  4. Get advice – if you’re still not getting anywhere, speak to Citizens Advice, your Trade Union or to ACAS.  Options might include using dispute resolution to liaise with your employer, or going to an employment tribunal.