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Employment Matters

Trade union members can access support from our expert employment rights lawyers on referral from their union.


Employment Matters

How trade union members can make an employment rights claim with Thompsons Solicitors

Thompsons Solicitors’ employment rights lawyers act for trade unions and their members, offering a comprehensive range of employment law advice. The firm acts for union members in employment tribunals and, when necessary, other courts in unfair dismissal claims, discrimination at work claims, equal pay claims or cases related to transfer of undertaking and collective redundancies (TUPE).

Thompsons Solicitors has been involved in most landmark cases in all aspects of employment law work. They include appeals not only to the Employment Appeal Tribunal but also to the Court of Appeal, Supreme Court the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights.


Employment Matters
“I’m so thankful for the support I received from my trade union and Thompsons. Settling my case has enabled me to put my time at the hospital behind me so I can move forward with my life.” Angela, trade union member

Thompsons Solicitors is proud to be the chosen employment law partner for the UK’s major trade unions and to assist them in providing expert advice and representation to members whose workplace rights have been abused or ignored.

Our employment rights solicitors offer advice in plain English and seek to use the full weight of their expertise to find swift solutions to the issue, and limit the need for lengthy litigation.

If you have concerns about an employment rights issue in your workplace, you should first contact your trade union for advice. With their comprehensive networks of local union representatives, branches and offices, your union can try to resolve the issue in the workplace before it escalates. Thompsons Solicitors is only instructed when those discussions break down.

In addition to providing case-specific legal advice, Thompsons Solicitors also has a variety of legal guides and employment rights booklets, covering topics such as discrimination, working time, equality issues and workplace health and safety. All of these are available in our Legal Guides and Resources section.

Frequently Asked Questions about Employment Rights matters

1. What is an ‘employment rights matter’?

Employment rights set out the legal rights a worker is entitled to and what they should be protected from, such as: equal pay; safe working conditions; working hours and protection from harassment and discrimination.

2. Where can I get employment law advice?

As a trade union member, you can access employment law advice, guidance and support from your local union representative at any time. They will involve your union’s legal service as necessary.

Thompsons Solicitors’ employment rights lawyers become involved if the matter cannot be resolved by the union and the only remedy is a legal one. Thompsons Solicitors has decades of employment law experience and provide free legal advice and representation to support union representatives, so that they can advise their members but also, when the workplace relationship breaks down, Thompsons Solicitors can be instructed by the union to represent the member in Tribunal proceedings. As a matter of principle we only ever work for workers, never the employers.

3. Who is covered by employment law?

Employment law covers the rights and responsibilities of both workers and employers, whether at a small independent business or a large conglomerate.

4. I’m concerned about employment rights at my work place. What should I do?

If you have concerns about breaches of employment rights at your workplace, or feel you have been poorly or unfairly treated by your employer, then your first point of contact should be your trade union. Legal involvement from professionals, such as Thompsons Solicitors’ employment law specialists, would only be triggered if your union cannot resolve the matter.

5. My hours are very long – how long can you be expected to work?

Currently in the UK, subject to Brexit, the Working Time Regulations set the maximum number of hours you can work in a week. The maximum number of hours you can work in any given week is on average 48 hours. Some employees can choose to ‘opt out’. The Working Time Regulations also specify how much paid leave you must be given – 5.6 weeks a year, what night work hours should be – usually eight in any 24-hour period, and any particular time limits or rules for younger workers.

If you are unsure of your working time rights then contact your union representative for free advice and information or read our helpful guide.

6. What is classed as working time?

Any work you do at your workplace, directed by an employer, is considered working time. Working time includes overtime, whether paid or not; being on call at a work premises, even if you don’t end up needing to work; travelling to clients; and training. For further guidance or advice on working time, read our legal guide.

7. How much annual leave am I entitled to?

Every paid employee is entitled to a minimum of 5.6 weeks of paid annual leave per year or a percentage of that if they work part-time. Your employer is allowed to include UK bank holidays within your annual leave allowance. If you are unsure what your company policy on bank holidays is, read through your employment contract where it should be set out.

8. How many breaks can I have in a working day?

In the UK, workers are entitled to at least a 20-minute, uninterrupted break if they work six or more hours a day. Whether that break is paid or not depends on your contract. Between shifts, you should have at least 11 hours of rest and an uninterrupted 24-hour break each week.

9. How much time do I have to take legal action for an employment matter?

Time limits on employment rights claims are relatively short, compared to personal injury claims, for example. You have up to three months minus one day from the date of the alleged employment infringement to make a claim to a tribunal, so if you feel you have been treated unfairly you should contact your trade union representative as soon as possible.

10. What is Early Conciliation?

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) is a free and confidential programme that tries to solve employment-related issues before they get to a tribunal. If you’re considering making a claim to an employment tribunal, you must enter into ACAS Early Conciliation before a claim is lodged, otherwise the Tribunal will reject the claim.

11. What is unfair dismissal?

Unfair dismissal is a breach of an employee’s statutory, rather than contractual, right not to be unfairly dismissed. To determine whether you have been dismissed fairly or not, a tribunal will look at whether your contract was ended for one of the five potentially fair reasons listed in the Employment Rights Act 1996.

A Tribunal will also consider whether the decision to terminate your employment was reasonable within all the circumstances, including whether your employer followed a fair procedure. The onus is on your employer to prove your dismissal was fair.

12. Can I make an unfair dismissal claim?

You can make an unfair dismissal claim if you are an employee and have been continuously employed by your employer for a period of 2 years or more at the date of dismissal. You also need to be certain you have been dismissed, rather than temporarily laid off, and that your claim has been made in time. For certain types of dismissal, there is no qualifying period of service requires, e.g. dismissal for trade union activities or dismissal for whistleblowing. You also do not need any qualifying service for bringing a claim for unlawful discrimination e.g. dismissal because of race or sex. For further advice or guidance, contact your union’s legal service.

13. What is considered a fair dismissal?

Fair reasons for having your contract terminated include your conduct, qualifications, capability, redundancy, a legal reason or restriction, or another significant problem. If none of those apply, or you think your employer is being unreasonable (unfair), then speak to your union representative as quickly as possible so that they can advise you.

14. Can I claim for unfair dismissal if I’m made redundant?

Generally redundancy refers to losing your job because it no longer exists or the place you work at no longer exists. It is not a redundancy if your employer says it is because of something you have done or they claim you can’t do your job well enough. If you don’t believe your redundancy process was fair, or that there was no redundancy situation or you think you were chosen for redundancy for unlawful reasons, then you could have a case for unfair dismissal and should contact your trade union for advice as soon as possible.  

15. What is constructive dismissal?

Constructive dismissal is the term used when an employer seriously breaches your employment contract, or an implied term of “trust and confidence”, and you resign because of it. These are very difficult claims and because of this, we rarely recommend people to resign and claim constructive dismissal. Constructive dismissal claims have been made where people have been bullied, pay has been withheld or reduced or when employees have found themselves demoted without reason. In a constructive dismissal claim, instead of the employer having to justify their behaviour towards you, the responsibility is on the employee to prove your employer behaved unlawfully.

16. What is interim relief?

Employment tribunals can sometimes instruct your employer to keep you in work until a hearing takes place, which could mean you return to your previous role, or a similar post, or simply that you are paid until the hearing – this is what’s described as interim relief. You can learn more here on our interim relief factsheet.

17. When can interim relief be given?

This is an emergency procedure to ensure that, where you are complaining of unfair dismissal for certain specific reasons e.g. unfair dismissal on grounds of trade union activities or whistleblowing, a Tribunal could order the employer to reinstate or re-engage you, pending the full hearing of your case. Interim relief will only be granted where the Tribunal is satisfied you are likely to succeed at the full hearing in showing that the dismissal was on the unlawful ground you have claimed, such as whistleblowing, that you have claimed.

18. What is wrongful dismissal?

Wrongful dismissal is a legal term that applies when an employer has dismissed you in breach of your employment, e.g. by dismissing you without.   There is no minimum period of employment required to start a compensation claim for wrongful dismissal.

19. How much notice must my employer give me?

Notice periods vary according to your contract and the reason why you are leaving. If you have an employment contract, your notice period should be clearly set out. Otherwise, the law sets out minimum periods of notice. Employees who have worked somewhere for between a month and two years are entitled to at least a week’s notice from their employer. That increases by one week for every year of service, up to 12 weeks for 12 years of service. However, if you are being dismissed for gross misconduct then your employer may decide not to give you notice, though they must act fairly and abide by their own disciplinary procedures.

20. What is redundancy?

Redundancy usually involves an employee losing their job in one of three situations:

  • the closure of the business;
  • the closure of the workplace;
  • where there is a diminishing need for employees to do the available work

21. I’m being made redundant, what am I entitled to?

There are many legal rights and safeguards to protect people made redundant in the UK. These are laid out in the Employment Rights Act. Importantly, you have the right to be treated fairly and the redundancy process should be transparent.

Your employer must be able to prove the need to make you redundant. You should be issued with a formal notice of dismissal, and the redundancy period should be clearly set out. You are entitled to paid time off to job hunt and attend job interviews, and if you’ve worked for your employer for more than two years you will be entitled to redundancy pay, too. For more details, or guidance, contact your trade union representative as soon as possible.

22. What is professional misconduct?

Professional misconduct refers to behaviour that falls below the professional standards set by the relevant governing body. For many years, Thompsons Solicitors’ experienced employment lawyers have represented professionals facing disciplinary proceedings with the likes of the General Dental Council, the General Teaching Council, and the Nursing and Midwifery Council.

23. I have been accused of professional misconduct. What should I do?

If you are facing a disciplinary hearing for alleged professional misconduct, contact your trade union representative as soon as possible. For free advice, your union membership may also give you access to free legal representation – check the terms of your union membership for clarification. Thompsons Solicitors’ professional misconduct experts provide free legal advice and representation to members of all its major trade union partners and has successfully supported many through disciplinary processes.

24. What does criminal misconduct mean?

Criminal misconduct refers to unlawful action or behaviour. Employees can be arrested and detained on work-related criminal charges. Thompsons Solicitors runs a criminal law helpline that offers our trade union members 24-hour access to support in such circumstances, on 0800 5877 530.

Praise from the Legal 500

"Thompsons is the leading firm for trade unions in both employment and personal injury. As well as covering all the standard areas, such as unfair dismissal, discrimination and breach of contract, it is the leading firm in areas that few other firms touch, such as strikes and injunctions; judicial review and employment law; internal trade union issues (e.g. Certification Officer); collective claims (e.g. for inadequate consultation in mass redundancies); black-listing claims; and test cases in areas such as paid annual leave."