Working during University and beyond

Employment Rights and Advice


Read your employment contract carefully. Contracts are legally binding on you and your employer. They set out your pay, hours, entitlements and rights. 

A contract of employment is an agreement between an employer and employee and is the basis of the employment relationship. Employment contracts do not need to be in writing to be legally valid, but it is better if they are. A contract 'starts' as soon as an offer of employment is accepted. Starting work proves that you accept the terms and conditions offered by the employer. Most employees are legally entitled to receive a written statement of the main terms and conditions of their employment within two calendar months of starting work. This should include details of things like pay, holidays and working hours. An existing contract of employment can be varied only with the agreement of both parties. Your contractual terms and conditions cannot override the legal minimum set out in law. Sometimes it will state in your contract that your employer has the right to change some of the terms of your employment to suit business needs. This is something to keep an eye out for when reading your contract. Remember, it’s essential to read your contract carefully.

Zero Hours Contacts 

Zero hours contracts often get pretty bad press. They’ve been called exploitative and unfair, and there are campaigns for them to be banned entirely. It’s easy to see why; while you have no obligation to accept the shifts you’re offered under a zero-hours contract, your employer doesn’t have to offer you any work either. Zero-hours contracts also mean that employers can have people working the equivalent of full-time hours, without being bound by law to offer them some of the benefits that should come with it. For example, employers don’t have to offer sick pay and there is often a shorter notice period (or none at all). Maternity leave and holiday pay are often accrued based on the number of hours you work, so it might take zero-hours workers longer to build up the same holiday or maternity leave as their colleagues. So for people who have families to support and mortgages to pay, a zero-hours contract with an irresponsible employer can be a nightmare.

However, for students who are looking for flexible working hours, a zero-hours contract could be beneficial. This is because you don’t have to accept the shifts you are offered, and therefore enables you to manage your employment in a way that it does not encroach on your University studies.  That’s great as long as your employer understands that you won’t have the same availability all year round.  For students, therefore this kind of arrangement can get you some extra cash without affecting your studies. In the same way that you can reduce your workload during busy periods, you can also increase it during quiet ones.

Outside term-time or after exams are over, you could (in theory) work the equivalent of full-time hours if they’re available. Of course, as with any job, you should always read your contract carefully and make sure you know your rights. On zero-hours, you’re still entitled to minimum wage, rest breaks, and protection from discrimination.

Work Experience and Internships

Whilst not essential, getting work experience can considerably enhance your chances of securing a graduate job. Many students and graduates do internships to explore a profession that interests them and to get practical experience for their CVs. It may also increase their chances of a graduate job with that employer, especially if it is a big organisation that recruits lots of graduates. Many internships are paid, but unpaid internships are still offered and over the past couple of years there are calls for the law in this area to be tightened.

Find out when interns are required to be paid

Health and Safety

It is your employer’s responsibility to ensure that your workplace is a safe place to work. You are entitled to see your employer’s health and safety policy and have access to a properly conducted risk-assessment of your workplace. You have the ultimate right to refuse to work if you do not think your employer is fulfilling their responsibilities to ensure safe working conditions.


Fairness in the workplace is a vital part of employment. In a fair minded organisation:

  • Employers promote a culture that recognises diversity, addresses equality and tackles discrimination.
  • Employees feel safe and valued at work, and employers recognise and support their wider wellbeing.
  • Terms and conditions and pay levels are transparent, comply with the law and reward employees fairly.

Fairness in the workplace is supported in law by the Equality Act 2010.  The aim of the Equality Act is to improve equal job opportunities and fairness for employees and job applicants. All employers should have policies in place to prevent discrimination. Under the Act, it is unlawful to discriminate against people at work because of nine areas termed in the legislation as ‘protected characteristics’ these are:

  • age
  • disability (including long-term mental health conditions)
  • gender reassignment
  • marriage and civil partnership
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation

Advice and Representation

Seek advice and representation. Trade unions work to improve employment conditions for their members and will represent you in a dispute. 

Trade unions exist to maintain and improve employment conditions on behalf of their members. Everyone has the right to join a trade union and cannot be discriminated against for joining one. Some benefits of joining a trade union include:

  • Access to representation during any disputes or negotiations with your employer on matters such as pay, health and safety, hours of work and disciplinary proceedings.
  • Training and development opportunities.
  • Providing assistance and services to their members such as CV writing and legal and financial advice
  • Exclusive member discounts on a range of products.
  • Being able to be part of a network of young members and get involved in campaigns and social events

Unlike a students’ union where you are automatically a member, you have to pay to join a trade union, but don’t let that put you off. All trade unions offer reduced rates for young workers and students, so it can cost you as little as £1 a month. Find the right trade union for you based upon the industry you work in or your job role.



ACAS, Citizens Advice and Student Advice also provide employment information and advice.  ACAS is the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, a Crown non-departmental public body of the Government of the UK. ACAS provides free and impartial information and advice to employers and employees on all aspects of workplace relations and employment law.

Citizens Advice is a free service which provides information and advice on a wide range of topics and issues including employment matters.  Our Student Advice team can also advise on employment matters.

Work/Study Balance

Balancing work and study. Find our your lecture / assessment schedule to plan shifts in advance and save your wages during periods when you have more time to work. 

For many students, working part-time whilst studying at University is a necessity as well as a means of enhancing their future employability. A recent survey revealed that three-quarters of students in the UK are working in a part-time job to supplement their student loan, and 27% said that not having enough money to make ends meet was impacting negatively on their grades. However, it is crucial to get the balance right.  It can be daunting trying to juggle a job with study, and for this reason, the University recommends that students work no more than 15 hours per week during term-time.

Be clear with your employer about your study schedule and let your tutor know about work commitments incase they can consider adjustments. Find out your lecture/assessment schedule so you can plan shifts in advance and save your wages during those periods where you have more time to work.

Achieving a good work/study balance

Holidays and Other Entitlements


All workers are legally entitled to a period of paid holidays per year.

Find out more

Minimum Wage

Rights at work. You are entitled to: be told in writing how much you will be paid and when, and a 20-minute rest break if work more than 6 hours. 

You are entitled to be informed in writing how much you’ll be paid and when your wages will be paid. The minimum hourly rates of pay are reviewed every year.

Minimum wage rates

Maximum Weekly Working Hours 

Working time regulations cover your employment rights to make sure you don’t work excessive hours.

Maximum weekly working hours

Rest Breaks

You are entitled to a rest break of at least 20 minutes if you work for more than six hours during a single shift and at least 11 hours’ rest in each 24 hour period.

Rest breaks

Sick Leave/Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) 

Employees can take time off work if they are ill. You need to provide medical confirmation as proof of your illness if you are absent for more than 7 days.

More information on sick leave/SSP can be found here:

Maternity Leave & Pay (SMP)

If you become pregnant and choose to become a parent, you’ll be entitled to 26 weeks paid maternity leave and 26 weeks unpaid leave.
More information on maternity leave/SMP/shared parental leave can be found here:

Income tax

Income Tax is a tax you pay on your income.

Find out more

National Insurance

You pay National Insurance contributions to qualify for certain benefits and the State Pension. You’ll need a National Insurance number before you can start paying National Insurance contributions. More information on National Insurance and how to apply for a NINO can be found here:

International Students and Working

If you’re studying full time on a Tier 4 visa, you are permitted to work part-time during your studies and during the holidays subject to certain restrictions. The Home Office has very strict rules about the type of work international students student can do, when they may work and the number hours per week they can work. Not complying with these rules can have very serious effects on your visa and immigration status in the UK.

Working with a Tier 4 visa

This advice was written by Cardiff University Students’ Union HR, Finance, Jobshop, Student Advice and VP Postgraduate Students’ Jake Smith in May 2019.

Employment Advice Stalls

3rd June, 12-2pm, SU Welcome Centre

7th June, 12-2pm, SU Welcome Centre