Law guide: Workplace

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Human rights in the workplace

Human rights in the workplace

The Human Rights Act

The Human Rights Act (HRA) protects your human rights and contains protection for workers' rights and freedoms. You will only be protected by the HRA if you work in the public sector.

If your employer is not a public authority you can't make a claim against your employer for breach of your human rights. However, human rights law has been incorporated into general employment law (for example, not to be discriminated against because of your sexuality) and that applies to all employers.

The HRA requires the UK courts to interpret UK legislation as far as possible in such a way that it is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which the UK is still a member of despite leaving the EU. Any decision by an Employment Tribunal must therefore follow the principles laid out in the Convention.

Human rights in the workplace

Many of the principles of the Human Rights Act are designed to protect you as a worker within the workplace. These include:

  • The right to a private and family life

An employer who discriminates against a gay worker, for example, may be violating that worker's right to a private life.

Your employer has the right to monitor communications within the workplace as long as you're aware of the monitoring before it takes place. Monitoring can cover:

  • Emails
  • Internet access
  • Telephone calls
  • Data
  • Images

You have the right to see any information held about you (for example, emails or CCTV footage).

Your right to a private life means you have the right to some privacy in the workplace. You can't be monitored everywhere, although the position is becoming unclear as a result of the increased use of multifunctional mobile phones, which can be used for emailing, internet as well as telephone calls both in and out of the workplace.

  • You have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion
  • You have a right to freedom of expression
  • You have a freedom of assembly and association
  • You have the right to be a member of a trade union, to attend gatherings and to campaign to improve your workplace benefits, provided that the health and safety of the public is not placed at risk.

What to do next

If you work in the public sector and you believe that your human rights at work have been breached, you should talk to your employer first. If you're still unhappy, you should follow the internal grievance procedure in your contract or written statement of employment.

If your employer doesn't have a grievance procedure, you should set out your complaint in a letter and hand it to your line manager. If your line manager is the problem, then hand your letter to your HR manager or your line manager's supervisor. Your employer should then arrange a grievance meeting with you.

If the outcome of the meeting is unsatisfactory, you have the right to appeal to a manager who was not previously involved in your grievance. For more information, see our article on Grievance procedures in Northern Ireland.

If the outcome of your appeal is unsatisfactory, you may want to take legal action. Human rights law can be complex, so before doing this you should take legal advice.

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