Employment Rights at Work
Survey of Employees 2005
Casebourne J, Regan J, Neathey F, Tuohy S
Employment Relations Research Series ERRS51, Department of Trade and Industry, April 2006
a study commissioned by the Department of Trade and Industry
Almost two-thirds of respondents said they felt either well informed (51 per cent) or very well informed (15 per cent) about their employment rights. Groups that might be expected to be more vulnerable at work had lower levels of awareness and knowledge about their rights at work than other workers.
The research also suggests that being a trade union member and/or being aware of employment rights may, to some extent, protect employees from having problems to do with their rights at work, and may help them resolve these problems.
In all, 42 per cent of respondents said they had experienced a problem at work in the past five years. The most common problem reported was issues to do with pay, which affected 22 per cent of all respondents.
Aims and objectives
The main aims of the study were:
- to assess employees’ general awareness of the scope of their employment rights
- for selected topics, to establish employees’ knowledge of specific employment rights provision (eg level of the National Minimum Wage [NMW], qualifying period for taking action on the grounds of unfair dismissal and discrimination cases, and rules for the award of costs in employment tribunal cases)
- to find out the main sources of information and professional advice about employment rights issues and, when employees have had a recent problem (eg in the past five years), where they sought advice and guidance and what they did to try and resolve the problem
- to identify the personal and employment characteristics that influence employees’ levels of awareness, knowledge and preparedness to seek advice and take action to enforce their individual employment rights (including employment status).
The first benchmark survey of ‘Awareness, Knowledge and Exercise of Individual Employment Rights’ was conducted in 2001 to assess the extent to which individuals were aware of their rights, had detailed knowledge of what those rights entailed, and were exercising their rights. Since this first benchmark survey was conducted, further legislation has been introduced, most notably the Employment Act 2002, which covers a broad range of issues including work and parents, and dispute resolution in the workplace. This report presents the results of the second benchmark survey conducted in 2005, after the introduction of this legislation.
It is particularly important that individuals have sufficient levels of awareness and knowledge of the rights introduced in this legislation, as they are required to enforce these aspects of the law themselves. Individuals are only able to exercise their rights if they are aware that their employer is in breach of the law, and know where to get information and advice if they experience a problem to do with their rights at work.
Awareness of employment rights
Respondents were asked how well informed they felt about their rights at work. Sixty-five per cent of respondents felt either very well informed or well informed about their rights at work: 15 per cent of respondents felt very well informed, and a further 51 per cent felt well informed. Twenty-eight per cent did not feel very well informed, and six per cent did not feel well informed at all. Forty-four per cent of all respondents felt that they knew as much as they needed to know abut their rights at work, while 55 per cent felt that they could do with knowing more. Three-quarters of all respondents (76 per cent) would know where to find out information about their rights at work if they needed to.
The rights which the most respondents were aware of were as follows (percentage of all respondents who were aware of the right is shown in brackets): race discrimination law (94 per cent), the NMW (93 per cent), disability discrimination law (92 per cent), sex discrimination law (91 per cent), unfair dismissal law (90 per cent), ordinary maternity leave (88 per cent), sexual orientation discrimination law (87 per cent), religious discrimination law (87 per cent), entitlement to in-work rest breaks (85 per cent), entitlement to a written statement of terms and conditions (84 per cent), paid holiday entitlement (81 per cent), and the entitlement to a set disciplinary procedure (81 per cent). There were only three rights where less than half of respondents were aware that the entitlement was a right: additional maternity leave (49 per cent), time off for dependants in an emergency (42 per cent), and parental leave (27 per cent).
Respondents who were aware that a right was an actual legal obligation on employers were then asked how much they knew about the detail of that right. The rights where a high proportion of these respondents said that they knew a lot about the detail of the law were: the right to have a written statement of terms and conditions (37 per cent of those who knew it was a right knew a lot about the detail), the right to the NMW (33 per cent of those who knew it was a right knew a lot about the detail), the right not to be dismissed unfairly (28 per cent of those who knew it was a right knew a lot about the detail), the right to an in-work rest break (27 per cent of those who knew it was a right knew a lot about the detail), and the right not to be discriminated against on the grounds of race (27 per cent of those who knew it was a right knew a lot about the detail). Around a quarter of respondents who knew about other rights, to do with discrimination, working time and pay/contracts/disciplinary and grievance procedures, also said that they knew a lot about the detail. In contrast to these more universally relevant rights, the rights where the highest proportion of respondents said they knew hardly anything about the detail were in the area of children and dependants.
An awareness score was developed by giving respondents points for getting the answers to awareness questions right and giving those with higher levels of general awareness more points than those with lower awareness. Analysis shows that it is the groups that might be expected to be vulnerable workers and to have low awareness levels of their rights at work that do in fact have lower awareness. For example, younger workers, those without an HR department, those who do not have managerial/supervisory duties, non-union/staff association members, and those employed in smaller workplaces.
Knowledge of specific employment rights
Respondents were asked about their knowledge of rights in the area of working time. When asked what the working time limit was, just over a quarter (26 per cent) of respondents accurately cited the actual limit of 48 hours. However, the average (mean) number of hours cited by respondents was 44.54, while the median number was 45.00 hours, both below the actual working time limit. Forty-three per cent of respondents incorrectly thought that an individual could opt-out of the working time limit informally, and one in five respondents incorrectly thought that an employer could make opting-out a condition of employment. Two-thirds of respondents (66 per cent) were correct in knowing that employees could legally opt-out by signing a written document.
When asked the minimum number of weeks of paid holiday employees are entitled to, 61 per cent of respondents knew the entitlement was four weeks. Only one-third of respondents (33 per cent) knew that employees were entitled to two days off in a 14-day period. Fewer than one in ten respondents (nine per cent) knew that employees had to work more than six hours before being legally entitled to a rest break.
Respondents were asked a range of questions about the NMW. Almost all respondents (95 per cent) said, correctly, that 22 to 64 year olds have a right to the NMW; and nearly as many (93 per cent), that workers aged 18 to 21 are covered. The large majority (83 per cent) also said that 14 to 15 year olds do not have minimum wage protection. Knowledge of the NMW position of 16 and 17 year olds was lower. Just under six in ten (58 per cent) of respondents knew that this group is covered by the NMW. In addition, over one-quarter (26 per cent) of survey respondents incorrectly thought that people above the standard retirement age do not have a right to the NMW.
One-third (33 per cent) of all respondents, indicated that they thought that there was a single rate of the NMW that applied regardless of age. For all age groups where the NMW applies, respondents over-estimated the rate. The average (mean) rate cited was £4.07 for 16 and 17 year olds, where the actual rate was £3; the average rate cited for 18 to 21 year olds was £4.61, considerably higher than the actual rate of £4.10. For 22 to 64 year olds the average rate cited was £5.08, with the actual rate being £4.85, while for those aged 65 and over the average rate cited was slightly less at £5.03, compared to the actual rate of £4.85.
Respondents were also asked some knowledge questions about rights in the areas of children and dependants. Sixty-two per cent of respondents knew that employees are not entitled to be paid for taking time off for a dependant in an emergency. A similar proportion (63 per cent) knew that a mother would be entitled to return to exactly the same job after ordinary maternity leave. Seventy-three per cent of respondents knew that a mother was entitled to return to exactly the same job, or to an equivalent job with the same rate of pay, after additional maternity leave.
When asked when employees’ entitlement to key rights began, over nine in ten respondents knew that the right to the NMW covers employees from the first day of their employment. Again, over nine in ten respondents (93 per cent) knew that the right to be covered by anti-discrimination laws covers employees from the first day of their employment. In contrast, only six per cent of respondents knew that the right to be covered by unfair dismissal laws comes into force after they have been with their employer for one year. Only two per cent of respondents knew that the right to a contract comes into force after employees have been with their employer for two months.
Questions were also asked about the right to be accompanied in disciplinary and grievance issues, and on taking a case to an employment tribunal. Over nine out of ten respondents (93 per cent) were correct in thinking that employees have the right to be accompanied to disciplinary or grievance hearings. However, when asked who could accompany them, only 18 per cent got the answer exactly right and knew employees were only entitled to take a trade union officer and a work colleague with them. Just over half of respondents (52 per cent) knew that employees only had to put their complaint in writing before making a claim (and so did not have to inform Acas or appoint a solicitor, or make a claim without doing any of these things).
A knowledge score was developed by giving respondents one point for each answer they got exactly right for some key knowledge questions. The analysis suggests that it is the groups that might be expected to be more vulnerable and to have low knowledge levels of their rights at work that do in fact have lower knowledge. For example, younger and older workers, part-time workers, those without an HR department, those who do not have managerial/supervisory duties, and lower earners.
Experience of problems
In all, 42 per cent of respondents had experienced a problem at work in the past five years. Logistic regression shows that having a long-term health problem or disability (compared to not having one) increased the odds of having had a problem, as did being ‘separated/divorced’ compared to being ‘single’, being in a ‘sales and customer services’ or ‘professional’ occupation, compared to being in an ‘elementary occupation’, and being a trade union/staff association member, compared to not being one. Being ‘aware’ of their employment rights compared to ‘not being aware’ decreased the odds of having experienced a problem. As a respondent’s age increased by one year, the odds of them having had a problem decreased.
Of those respondents that had experienced a problem, the most common problem reported was issues to do with pay, which affected 22 per cent of all respondents. This was followed by problems associated with receiving a contract or written statement of the terms and conditions of the job; taking rest breaks at work; and the number of hours or days required to work; all of which were reported by 13 per cent of all respondents. Overall, respondents who had had a problem reported an average of 2.8 distinct problems in the previous five years. In terms of the most serious problem, the most common area was, again, issues related to pay, which accounted for 24 per cent of those respondents who had experienced a problem. Just under two-thirds of those respondents who had experienced a problem (65 per cent) felt that their most serious problem had now been resolved.
Just over half of those respondents reporting a problem (53 per cent) sought advice about their most serious problem. A manager at work (cited by 32 per cent of only those who actually sought advice) followed by a trade union representative (cited by 19 per cent of those who actually sought advice) were the most popular sources of advice or information for the first contact a respondent made. The most popular sources of advice for subsequent contacts were a manager at work (cited by 15 per cent of only those who actually sought advice) followed by another colleague at work (cited by 12 per cent of only those who actually sought advice).
Over three-quarters of those respondents who had experienced a problem (77 per cent) discussed the issue face to face with their employer. Almost one-quarter of respondents who had experienced a problem (24 per cent) put their concerns in writing to their employer. Of those respondents that did discuss the issues with their employer, one in four went to a formal meeting with their employer. Of those who did not discuss the issue with their employer, more than half (54 per cent) said they would have liked to have had this opportunity. Just three per cent of those who experienced a problem reported that they had brought an employment tribunal case against their employer as a result of the problem(s).
Logistic regression showed that the following factors increased the odds of a problem at work being resolved satisfactorily: being a trade union/staff association member (compared to not being one), being ‘aware’ in general of their employment rights (compared to ‘not being aware’), and discussing the problem with their employer face to face (compared to not discussing it face to face).
Future sources of information and advice
Respondents were asked where they would go if they wanted to find out some general information about their rights at work. Just over one in five of all respondents (21 per cent) said that they would go to Personnel or an HR officer first, while 18 per cent would go to a manager at work, 16 per cent would use a website/the Internet, 14 per cent would use a Citizens’ Advice Bureau (CAB), and just over one in ten (11 per cent) would go to a trade union. Respondents were asked where they would go then if they had not got the information they had wanted, and an interesting shift occurs. Over one in five (22 per cent) of respondents who knew who they would contact first would then go to a CAB, while just under one in ten (19 per cent) who knew who they would contact first would then go to a Personnel or HR officer. Sixteen per cent who knew who they would contact first would use a website/the Internet if they had not got the information they wanted, while 13 per cent who knew who they would contact first would then go to a manager at work, and 13 per cent would go to a trade union.
In all, 61 per cent of all respondents thought that employers were mainly responsible for informing employees about their rights at work, 27 per cent of respondents thought that employees were responsible for informing themselves about their rights at work, while nine per cent thought that it was the responsibility of government, and two per cent thought that it was the responsibility of trade unions. Thirty-four per cent of all respondents thought that a dedicated website would be the most useful source if they needed information about their rights at work, 31 per cent of respondents thought that a helpline similar to NHS Direct would be most useful, and 34 per cent thought that a booklet given to all employees would be most useful.
About this survey
This research was carried out as part of the Department of Trade and Industry’s (DTI’s) employment relations research programme. The report presents findings from the second benchmark survey of ‘Employees’ Awareness, Knowledge and Exercise of Employment Rights’ conducted in 2005 among adults of working age who had worked as employees in Great Britain in the previous two years. The research was undertaken by the Institute for Employment Studies (IES), in partnership with the British Market Research Bureau. Using computer-assisted personal interviewing (CAPI), 1,038 face-to-face interviews were conducted between June and October 2005 in the homes of individuals. Improvements in questionnaire design, sampling, and the shift from a telephone to a face-to-face data collection method mean that it is not possible to make reliable comparisons between findings from the 2001 and 2005 surveys.
Employment Rights at Work: Survey of Employees 2005, Casebourne J, Regan J, Neathey F, Tuohy S. Employment Relations Research Series ERRS51, Department of Trade and Industry, 2006.
ISBN: 978-0-85605-346-7. Bound copy: £free