Understanding your rights as a temporary worker in the UK

In this post, we’ll define not just what a temporary job is, but the fundamental rights of temporary workers in the UK, covering topics such as fair pay, working hours, health and safety, holiday entitlement, and much more.

Nicholas Kira

24 June 2024

19 min read

Understanding temporary worker rights in the UK, is not just a ‘nice to know’ – it’s of paramount importance in ensuring that you’re treated fairly, and within the bounds of the law, as a temporary worker.

We’ll cover many different points as we go on, but here are five key reasons why it’s important to understand the rights and protections that apply to you.

  1. To protect you from exploitation: just because your employment is defined as temporary, doesn’t mean you should be taken advantage of in any way when it comes to rates of pay, breaks during the working day, holiday entitlement, and your general health and safety.

    Like anyone else in the UK, you’re entitled to be paid at least the National Minimum Wage, as a starting point, or a competitive market rate in line with your specific role, the required skills, and your experience. Knowing your rights, when it comes to pay, prevents employers from exploiting your temporary status.

    Similarly, you have a right to take breaks during the working day, depending on the length of your shift. For example, for a four-hour shift, it’s unlikely you’d get a rest break, but for a six-hour shift (or longer) you’re legally entitled to at least one 20-minute break.

    Then there are breaks beyond just 20 minutes – by which we mean your holiday entitlement: paid time off work.This varies from employer to employer, but, as a bare minimum, you should get 28 days holiday per year… if working full time.

    The ‘if’ is in there as it’s not always possible to find full-time temporary work, so on an hourly basis, you should accrue holiday pay at 12.07% of your hourly wage – again, as a minimum.
    You can find out exactly what you should be getting, according to the UK Government.

    And, of course, when it comes to temporary worker rights, you should be operating in a safe working environment, just like a permanent worker would expect to – with minimal risk of accidents and injuries. You should also be free to report unsafe conditions or working practices, without there being any repercussions for doing so.

  2. To also protect you from stress and/or burnout: we’ve kind of covered some of this above, in relation to temp or agency worker rights, but you should be able to work without being overburdened or feeling exhausted, and maybe taking on the work of two or more people.

    A little stress, or a little pressure, in the workplace is a good thing – it motivates you and pushes you on. And very few jobs come with zero stress attached.

    But when that stress reaches unhealthy levels, that’s when it can affect both your mental and physical wellbeing, and lead to burnout, which will most likely mean you have to take time off work to recover.

    Temporary workers don’t want this, and employers don’t want this, as it leads to absenteeism, reduced productivity, and high staff turnover.

    This is where those regular breaks during the working day come into play, as well as holiday entitlement – allowing you time to relax, away from the working environment.

    And it’s also the reason there’s a maximum limit of 48 working hours per week allowed for temporary workers. However, if you’re over the age of 18, there is the option to opt out of that, by writing to your employer. This is all part of the wider Working Time Directive, which is there to protect you from said burnout.

  3. To prevent workplace accidents and injuries: this goes back to point number one, about health and safety protocols employers have to stick to, to ensure that you’re operating in a safe working environment.

    In most instances, workplace accidents and injuries are entirely avoidable, although it would be nigh on impossible to bring the risk down to zero.

    But, by and large, employers should:

    – Carry out risk assessments of all tasks a temporary worker might be asked to undertake.
    – Give temporary workers any training they need – for example, showing them how to use certain equipment.
    – Supervise temporary workers, especially if they’re new to the company.
    – Provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) where necessary, such as gloves, safety glasses, high-vis jackets or tabards, and steel toe cap boots.
    – Report accidents or near misses, with a clear system in place for doing so.

  4. To ensure everyone receives equal treatment and has the same opportunities:
    again, whether you’re a temporary worker or a permanent employee, it almost goes without saying that you should receive equal treatment to your peers and be offered the same opportunities as them.

    For starters you should never be discriminated against for what are known as protected characteristics, such as age, race, religious beliefs, gender, or sexual orientation. If you believe you haven’t been given a job, haven’t been promoted or given requested responsibilities, or have been held back in any way, based on one of those characteristics, you have the right to challenge that.

    This is one that may surprise some people, but – in terms of equal treatment – temporary workers have the right to pay and benefits equal to a permanent employee, after 12 continuous weeks in one role.
    The means, the same pay, same holiday entitlement, same access to perks such as staff discounts, and so on.

    In addition to this, you should – right from the off – have access to the same facilities as permanent staff, such as staff canteens offering food at subsidised rates, childcare provisions, and on-site health facilities e.g. a gym.

  5. To ensure you have a degree of financial security and can plan ahead: temporary worker rights also include being given a certain amount of assurance from employers. Temporary work shouldn’t translate as ‘complete instability’, otherwise no one would take it on.

    Temporary work often involves working for a set number of shifts, working for the duration of a project or assignment, or entering into a fixed-term contract. Knowing your rights when it comes to contract terms, and keeping a record of any set contracts, will help you to avoid any unexpected changes or unfair dismissal.

    As previously mentioned, you should have a set wage for the duration of any contract, which cannot be lower than the National Minimum Wage, allowing you to plan ahead and budget more easily.

    The unexpected can crop up, regardless of whether you’re a temporary worker or a permanent employee: a new family arrival on the way or a period of sickness that, like most people, you just didn’t foresee.  As a temporary worker you have certain rights when it comes to taking parental leave and receiving statutory sick pay, but these can be somewhat limited.

    For example, shared parental leave allows parents to share up to 52 weeks of leave and pay following the birth or adoption of a child… but only if they’ve been employed by the same employer for at least 26 weeks before the baby was due, and only if they’ve been earning below a certain amount in the previous 13 weeks.

    As for sick pay, you’d qualify for statutory sick pay (SSP) if you’d been working for an employer for four weeks or more, before becoming ill; if you were employed by them, rather than self-employed; if you’d been ill for at least four consecutive days (weekends included); and if you’d stuck to their rules for ‘reporting sickness’.

    You should maintain your awareness overall in relation to fair working schedules or rotas, expected pay rates (particularly the ‘going rate’ in the market, if you have a specific skill set), holiday entitlement, and so on, as this will only strengthen your position, and give you the financial security you’re looking for.

    If you do have financial worries, it’s also worth looking at other options, such as approaching your mortgage provider to request a mortgage holiday.

    So, that’s why it’s important to understand your rights as a temporary worker in the UK, and what some of those rights are, but what defines someone as a temporary worker? What are the key industries where there are plenty of opportunities for temporary workers? Which key legislation applies to temporary workers? What are the Agency Workers Regulations 2010 and what do they mean for workers? And what are some practical tips when it comes to knowing your rights?

Definition of temporary workers

What constitutes a temporary worker?

This is a tricky one, as there isn’t one set definition of what a temporary worker is in the UK.
Temporary work usually entails a degree of flexibility in comparison to permanent work, so a typical temporary working arrangement might include:

  • A fixed-term contract: where temporary workers have a specific start date and end date for a period of employment. This could be anything from a few weeks, to several months, or even a whole year – often covering a specific project or the absence of a permanent staff member
  • A zero-hours contract: where temporary workers aren’t guaranteed a set number of hours each week. They’re essentially called in by an employer ‘as and when needed’.
  • Agency workers: where temporary workers are employed by recruitment agencies who place them with different companies, at different times, for a variety of temporary roles.
    This is often known as a contract for services, where, as a worker, your contract is with the agency themselves, with the ‘hiring organisation’ being your place of work, where you complete your ‘assignment’ (a specific period of work).

  • The tech-based route: This is slightly different than working for an out-and-out, bricks and mortar recruitment agency, and involves signing up to a tech-enabled platform, like Indeed Flex, who act in place of agency – putting you in direct contact with companies, to book shifts on a one-by-one basis or for the longer term.

    Temporary work is usually short-term, in comparison to permanent roles, but this very much depends on the arrangement you may have with an individual employer: some roles, for example, are on a temp to perm basis.

    Temporary work may also include freelance or contractor roles, but we’ll cover this in more depth in a bit.

What are the differences between temporary, part-time, and full-time employment?

There are quite clear and distinct differences between the three different types of employment mentioned above – some may be obvious, some may not be. So, we’ve laid out the definitions below.

  • Temporary employment: this refers to employment with a predefined end date. The length of that period of employment can vary greatly; from a single shift, to a few days or weeks, up to a year or more for certain roles – all dependent on the needs of the individual employer.
    The scheduled hours for temporary roles may vary too, with some offering regular hours and others involving fluctuating schedules.
    And temporary workers do get certain employee benefits, but these are limited in comparison to those of full-time staff and may simply be the statutory minimum in relation to sick pay, holiday pay, and so on.

  • Part-time employment: part-time work involves working fewer hours than a full-time employee, but without a predetermined end date. Part-time workers can have regular set hours or more flexible arrangements. Part-time work offers more flexibility than full-time positions, but not quite as much as temporary work.
    In the main, part-time workers are entitled to most of the same statutory benefits as full-time employees, but they’re usually calculated proportionally, based on their working hours.
    Additional benefits, like private health care, may be provided to part-time workers, but this isn’t guaranteed – it’s at the discretion of their employer.

  • Full-time employment: full-time work typically involves a set schedule with consistent working hours each week; usually somewhere in the region of 40 hours, and between certain times e.g. 9am – 5.30pm. There might be some flexibility, depending on the employer, but generally less than part-time and temporary roles.

    There is no set, predetermined end date for full-time roles – individuals are usually expected to commit to the one job for a couple of years or more, depending on their individual circumstances, progression, and the circumstances under which their employer is operating.
    Full-time employees typically receive the full range of employee benefits offered by their employer, including all statutory minimums, plus other benefits on top, such as health insurance, pension contributions, and discounts on certain products and/or services.

    So, that’s the differences between the different types of work, clearly defined, but what about what constitutes a ‘worker’ Vs an ‘employee’?

Employee Vs worker: what’s the difference?

It might sound like we’re splitting hairs in trying to set out definitions for the above mentioned terms. Aren’t they essentially the same thing? Well, not quite…

An employee has more traditional employment status, including a formal contract outlining the duties they are to undertake, the key responsibilities, their set rate of pay, and the benefits they’re entitled to.

In comparison, arrangements for workers are more flexible, or even ‘loose’. They may have a contract, but it’s likely to be less formal than that of an employee. For example, it may not set out an exact working schedule (an individual might need to complete 10 hours of work per day, but these 10 hours can be at any time of their choosing), outline specific responsibilities, or offer the same benefits… or any benefits at all.

Employers generally have more control over where and how employees work, whereas workers can often work at different locations and in a way that best suits them. And while employees have to turn up and do the job themselves, workers can – if they choose – use someone to do the work in place of them; a subcontractor, for example.

The minimum entitlements differ between employees and workers too.

Employees have to, at the very least, get statutory sick pay, holiday pay, paid parental leave, redundancy pay (after a qualifying period), and advanced notice of termination of employment. The same is not true for workers. They’re protected from discrimination, have a right to rest breaks if working a certain number of hours, and must receive at least the National Minimum Wage, but that’s it.

Workers are generally freelancers, contractors, or zero-hours workers, but the quickest way to determine your status is by checking your employment contract, which should state whether you’re a worker or an employer.


Common industries and roles for temporary workers in the UK

Temporary workers in the UK have a whole host of opportunities available to them, across too many sectors to mention in one blog post

At Indeed Flex, we concentrate on six main industries, which are:

  • Hospitality: this includes roles such as bartenders, barbacks, baristas, waiting staff, kitchen porters, chefs (of all levels of seniority).
  • Light Industrial: this is less on the heavy side of industrial e.g. large, commercial construction sites, and more to do with warehousing and logistics. Roles we cover include warehouse operatives, warehouse supervisors, picker packers, loaders, forklift operators, and stockroom assistants. 
  • Retail: our roles are largely within the food retail sector, but there are, of course, many other retail sectors.
    These roles include retail assistants, online order assistants, replenishment assistants, merchandisers, and grocery home delivery drivers.

  • Facilities Management: these are mainly cleaning and housekeeping roles, often in hotels, but – in the case of cleaning roles – sometimes in commercial settings, such as the offices of particular companies.
  • Healthcare: the healthcare roles we have available are for support workers, care assistants, cleaning staff, and kitchen staff.
  • Business Support: These are roles based in a variety of different businesses and include contact centre agents, complaints handlers, data entry clerks, administrators, call centre team leads, and receptionists.

Other industries which often call upon temporary workers are IT and technology, education, and marketing and advertising. Truth be told, the list is almost endless.


Rights and protections for temporary workers

You’ve read about most of the rights for temporary workers in the UK already (assuming you’ve scrolled down this far), including; minimum pay rates, holiday pay, rest breaks, maximum working hours, health and safety regulations, and your specific rights after 12 weeks of continuous employment… but there are two more you should definitely be aware of.

The right to request a permanent position

This will only happen in very rare circumstances, but if an employee is on fixed-term contracts for 4 or more years, then they automatically become a permanent employee, unless their employer can present a good business reason for this not happening.

Dismissal and redundancy rights

When it comes to dismissal, temporary workers do have some rights.

Firstly, they’re entitled to some sort of notice period, which will be outlined in their contract. As an example, temporary workers on a fixed-term contract are entitled to one week’s notice, if they’ve worked for at least one month.

Secondly, they cannot be dismissed unfairly – without their employer giving a valid reason or following proper procedures. There is a qualifying period of service required to claim unfair dismissal, but this doesn’t apply if someone believes they were unfairly dismissed for reasons including discrimination, whistleblowing, or exercising their statutory rights.

In respect of redundancy rights for temporary workers in the UK, they’re quite limited.
This is because redundancy pay is typically linked to length of service, which is often shorter for temporary workers.

Some temporary contracts may include redundancy clauses that offer specific compensation if a worker is made redundant, but it’s up to each individual to review their contract to check whether this is the case.


Agency Workers Regulations 2010

The Agency Workers Regulations (AWR) 2010 are a set of regulations that actually came into force in 2011, designed to protect the rights of temporary agency workers.

These regulations apply to any temporary agency workers who are supplied by a temporary work agency (TWA) to work for an employer, or ‘hirer’ (the company where the temporary worker will undertake their role).

They kick in after a temporary agency worker has completed the qualifying period of 12 weeks’ continuous work with the same company.

Once this period has passed, it means that the temporary agency worker is entitled to be treated in exactly the same way as the company’s permanent staff, in respect of:

  • Equal pay
  • Working hours per week
  • Overtime pay
  • Breaks
  • Annual leave/holiday
  • Access to facilities (canteens, staff rooms, childcare facilities, and so on)

This isn’t something that’s optional, and AWR is rigidly enforced by the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate (EASI).


How to protect yourself as a temporary worker in the UK

Practical tips for temporary workers

The temporary worker rights that we’ve mentioned throughout this post should ensure that you have a degree of protection when working for different employers, through different agencies, but there are still some practical steps you can take to be absolutely sure that you’re getting fair treatment:

  • Make sure you fully understand your contract: carefully review your temporary employment contract, when you get it. This important document will clarify your employment status (employee or worker), pay rate, working hours, benefits, notice period, and termination clauses.

  • Ask questions: don’t hesitate to ask questions about the role, responsibilities, expectations, and any uncertainties you may have about your contract.
  • Check out the agency: if you’re working through a temporary work agency make sure they’re licensed and reputable. You can check their license status with the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate (EASI).
  • Know your rights: familiarise yourself with your rights as a temporary worker in the UK, including minimum wage, breaks, holiday pay, health and safety procedures, and dismissal procedure.
  • Keep records: maintain records of your working hours, pay slips, and any communication with your employer or agency. It may seem excessive, but it’s better to err on the side of caution, just in case you encounter any issues later down the line.
  • Consider joining a trade union: this isn’t an absolute necessity, but it’s worth considering joining a trade union that represents your industry. Unions can offer support, advice, and potentially help you to negotiate better working conditions.
  • If an offer seems too good to be true… then, sadly, it probably is. Be wary of promises of high pay with minimal work, or guaranteed permanent positions after only a short period of work.
  • Report any violation of your rights: if you suspect you’re being mistreated or your rights are violated, then don’t hesitate to report it – either to your employer or agency, or to the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas).

So, these are the practical, proactive steps you can take to ensure that you’re treated fairly and that your rights are not infringed in any way.


Understanding your rights as a temporary worker in the UK: in conclusion

If you’re going to take on any kind of temporary work, it’s vital that you know, and fully understand, temporary worker rights in the UK, so you can be sure that you’re being treated fairly… and within the bounds of UK employment law.

It’s essential to know what you’re entitled to in terms of pay, holiday, sick pay, rest breaks, and health and safety protocols.

You also need to ensure you exercise your rights, including working no more than a certain number of hours per week, to avoid excess stress or even burnout.

Perhaps, most importantly, you should receive equal treatment irrespective of your cultural background or ethnicity, age, gender, religious beliefs, or sexual orientation.

And it will serve you well to understand the clear difference between ‘employer’ and ‘worker’, the key legislation that applies to you, and your specific rights under the AWR 2010.

Keep yourself up to date with your knowledge of your rights as a temporary worker and you should have a much better understanding of what’s reasonable for an employer to request of you, in any role, and what strays beyond the bounds of ‘normal’.