Achieving your degree probably felt at times like an endless struggle against coursework deadlines, examination stress and the occasional hangover, but it is only once the degree certificate has taken pride of place on a wall at home and your first day of work looms that you realise the real hard work is all to come.

Negotiating your first weeks and months in employment can be challenging, and whilst many firms offer support to all their new and existing recruits, sometimes it’s hard to know where to go to get the most appropriate advice.

The first thing that any graduate in new employment should remember is that, like any other employee, graduates have legal rights. Just because you are starting at the bottom of the ladder and are trying to impress does not mean that you should quietly accept bad business practice as par for the course.

Who has rights?

The basis of all employment law rights are found either in statute law, that is law passed by parliament, or in your contract for employment. Most graduates in employment will qualify for some basic rights, although it is worth knowing that you only acquire some employment rights after you have worked for your employer for some time.

If you are a graduate working on a temporary or casual basis, or are participating in an internship programme to build experience on your CV, then your rights may differ from those of a full time employee. Your rights may also differ if you are working in the armed forces, the police, the transport industry or if you are a junior doctor on the foundation programme. To best understand your employment law rights in any of these circumstances, you should consult an employment law solicitor for legal advice.

Know your graduate employment law rights

Basic rights
Nearly all graduate employees will be entitled to certain basic rights from the beginning of their employment. These include:

  • The right to an employment contract within two months of starting work
  • The right to be paid the national minimum wage
  • The right to a pay slip.

It is worth noting that interns acquire these basic rights as well in some circumstances, so again, if you are unsure of your particular situation speak to an employment law specialist for clarification.

There are a wide range of other employment rights for graduates, which vary from the right to paid time off for antenatal care and maternity or paternity leave, to the right to ask for flexible working hours. Of course, any new employee is keen to impress, and may wish to limit the number of instances they seek to ‘enforce their rights’, however a healthy working relationship is a two way process and you can only stand up for yourself once you know and understand your employment rights.

Discrimination, harassment and unfair dismissal

Being the new kid on the block has many advantages, and many graduates enter employment looking to prove their worth and climb the career ladder. However graduates can be among the most vulnerable employees because they don’t wish to rock the boat for fear of losing their important new position.

Unfair dismissal
Some employment rights only accrue after you have been working for a short time, and in this regard the law has recently changed. If you started your new job on or after 6th April 2012, then you will have to be employed for two years before you can make a claim for unfair dismissal. If your job started before that date, then the qualifying period for unfair dismissal is only one year.

Discrimination and harassment
However, unfair dismissal is only one element of poor employment practice. When it comes to more serious matters such as discrimination and harassment, your employment rights as a graduate start on day one. Every employee, regardless of the duration of their employment, with a company has the right not to be discriminated against or harassed because of their age, disability, pregnancy, race, religion, sex or sexual orientation.

Understanding discrimination is important; many graduates would readily identify with discrimination in the workplace when it is obvious, but often discrimination can be subtle.

Harassment is another form of discrimination, and includes workplace bullying, verbal and non-verbal abuse and unwanted physical contact.

If you or someone you know at work is bullied, harassed or discriminated against in any way, it is vitally important to take independent legal advice from an employment law solicitor at the earliest opportunity. Claims in such cases are time limited, and as a result you must seek this advice well within three months of the first instance of unwanted behavior.

How to enforce your employment rights

Navigating your first years in employment is hard enough, so make sure that you seek ample support and information if you feel your rights may have been infringed. Speaking to your line manager or superiors may be appropriate in some circumstances, but sometimes outside advice would be more appropriate.

You should consider informing your union of any circumstances where you feel your rights may have been infringed. If you are not a union member, then you can get free legal advice from the Citizens Advice Bureau, or you can call an employment law solicitor for a consultation.

About the Author

  • About Nick Branch: Nick Branch received his LLB from the University of the West of England in 2004 before going on to work as a director of two property-related businesses. He is currently studying to become a doctor on the fast-track graduate entry medicine course at King's College London and is regular writer for Contact Law on law-related topics.

Nick Branch

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