Employment Issues Over Christmas

Most people associate the run up to Christmas with shopping, festive jumpers, turkey, or generally catching up with family and friends. Edinburgh, during this period, becomes a sought-after tourist destination, with the Christmas Market and Hogmanay celebrations attracting tens of thousands.

Despite many people looking forward to Christmas, this is only one side of the coin. The other side is made up by underpaid or overworked workers, who don’t know their rights and whose employers may take advantage of.  The same force bringing tourists here, boosting our economy, creates ideal conditions for exploitation and for dodging statutory employment rights over wages and entitlements.  While most of Edinburgh’s employers are trying to get it right, it is those who are undercutting those businesses by not meeting their legal requirements that are negating this positive impact to our local economy.

This year, we have dealt with over 3,600 advice areas for more than 2,200 clients who had employment issues, ranging from help solving disputes at the employment tribunal to reassurances over workplace rights.

At Citizens Advice Edinburgh, employment issues are the 3rd most common area of advice. This year, we have dealt with over 3,600 advice areas for more than 2,200 clients who had employment issues, ranging from help solving disputes at the employment tribunal to reassurances over workplace rights.

Since the first of October, we have advised on 213 employment enquiries related to pay and entitlements, 12 of which were related to a failure of employers in paying the statutory National Minimum/ Living wage. What is striking about these figures is that only 1/3 of people seeking help on this set of issues identify as white Scottish. People from minority backgrounds or newcomers to Scotland and the UK are more likely to be exploited, as they are not always as aware of their rights.

It is because of this that CAE produced the Fair Work leaflet, available in English, Spanish and Polish, please click here to read more about your basic employment rights.

The Minimum Wage

Mark*, 20, arrived in the UK in June. He started to work in a local shop, where his manager told him his pay would be £4.30 per hour. He worked for a few days, after which he decided to tell his manager he did not wish to continue. His manager told him in response that he would not be paid. Mark went to his local bureau to know what his rights were. Our adviser was able to inform him the minimum wage for his age was £5.55 per hour and how much in total he was owed. Although he gave his notice, Mark was still entitled to payment. Our adviser was also able to draft a letter to be sent out to the shop manager outlining how much it was owed, and giving Mark’s bank details. Finally, Mark was told to return to the bureau in case he didn’t manage to receive his wages.

Did You Know That...

There are two parts to Minimum wage legislation in the UK National minimum wage which applies to people up to the age of 24 and National Living wage for those over 25.   The pay rate you are entitled to depends on your age. The rates from 1 October 2016 are:

  • £7.20 per hour - 25 yrs old and over
  • £6.95 per hour - 21-24 yrs old
  • £5.55 per hour 18-20 yrs old
  • £4 per hour - 16-17 yrs old
  • £3.40 for apprentices under 19 or 19+ who are in the first year of apprenticeship.

You’re entitled to Minimum Wage if you’re a worker or an employee and you’re over 16. You’re not entitled to the Minimum Wage if you’re self-employed or volunteering. For a full list of who is exempt from Minimum Wage payments, click here.

Although some workers are aware they are paid less than the minimum wage, sometimes they choose not to raise this with their employers as they do not want to jeopardise relationships.

Shona* has been working for several months. She was paid her wages on her bank account but never received a payslip. She was told that the profit the business made was split equally between her and her manager/colleague. She sought advice at her local Citizens Advice Bureau. Our advisor was able to confirm that Shona did not appear to be in the category of people who do not qualify for the Minimum Wage, hence she was being underpaid. Shona had been reluctant to raise any formal discussion on the issue with her manager as she does not want to jeopardise her job, but decided to double check what she is entitled to and is now considering what step to take.

Holidays and Breaks

Don’t forget your breaks- Taking appropriate rest breaks is good for your health.  If you’re over 18, you’re entitled to a 20 min break if you work more than 6 hours. It may be company’s policy to give you more than this. If you are under 18, different (more strict) rules on working time apply.

You’re also entitled to a daily rest of 11 hours between working days- meaning that if you finish at 11pm you shouldn’t start work again until 10am.

Finally, you’re entitled to 24 hours uninterrupted break from work at least once a week (this can be averaged out as a full 2 days break in 2 weeks).

You’re entitled to Holidays- It doesn’t matter if you’re on a short term contract, as long as you’re a worker or an employee you are entitled to holiday pay. If you work full time, the statutory holiday entitlement is 28 days per year, this can be 20 days plus Bank Holidays which is especially important to understand at this time of year with four bank holidays.   Your employer can close your workplace at Christmas time but you must have been told this at the time your employment started or it be part of the holiday policy. You accrue holiday for every day that you work and if you work irregular hours then you accrued 12.07% of every hour you work.

Our Advice

We advise many people every week who either have been paid less than what the job description stated, or fewer hours than they actually worked. If you take some precautionary measures, these problems can be more easily dealt with.

Keep a copy of the job description and/or of your contract- many people have come to speak to us because they were paid less than what the job description stated. In many cases, the job was advertised on popular websites. However, due to the original job being advertised on an expired page, our clients had no way of proving this. Taking a screenshot of the ad and saving it on your email or phone could help you deal with this.

Write down the hours you work – We had clients that were not being paid for the actual hours worked- it’s good to discuss with your employer what the cut-off date for payment is, and refer to your contract for the payment of overtime. Always keep track of the hours you worked – and any proof you have of these- like a photo of the rota, or any email or text message discussing this working hours- will help.

What Happens If You Are Not Receiving Your Entitlements

- You could discuss this with your manager – it may be that the employer has made a simple error

- You could raise a formal grievance. Your employee handbook should explain how to do this.

 - If your grievance doesn’t get the result you want, you can use the early conciliation process by contacting  ACAS.

- Your last resort is to take your employer to a tribunal - think carefully and take advice before you go ahead, as it could be expensive and stressful. You’ve got 3 months less a day to start a tribunal claim, starting from the date of the thing you are complaining about last happened.

And finally – if you are attending a work Christmas party remember that your behaviour must be as professional as it would be in your workplace, enjoy it but please don’t be one of the many that fall foul of a disciplinary in the New Year!

Citizens Advice Edinburgh can help you with all employment issues whether you are workers, employees or an employer trying to get it right, come see us at one of our 5 bureaux.


*The names of our clients have been changed to preserve confidentiality.

Emanuele De Vito

Emanuele De Vito

Social Policy Assisstant