Foreign workers – know your rights

Moving to a different country is pretty overwhelming. You have to figure out how to move your things, apply for visas and oh yeah… sort out an entire new career for yourself. Where do you even start? Luckily, we’ve got the last one sorted. The Mix helps you understand your rights at work as a foreign worker.

A young woman is on her laptop. She is looking up foreign workers rights. This is a full-body image.

I’m from another European country. What are my rights after Brexit?

It’s not as easy as it used to be for EU citizens to live and work in the UK. Starting from January 2021, any EU citizen who’s residing outside the UK but wants to work in the country has to get a UK skilled worker visa for their immigration request to be successful.

Basically, this means that your employer has to get a sponsorship licence to employ from abroad. It’s worth mentioning that Irish citizens are exempt from the restriction since the UK and Ireland still take part in free trade between the two countries, i.e workers can move freely between the two.

To help make the transition slightly smoother, The UK government did establish the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) which enabled EU, EEA and Swiss citizens (and their family members) who had already been living in the UK pre-Brexit to get the immigration status they need to continue their lives here. Unfortunately, the deadline for applications was 30 June 2021 and only applied to citizens who had been living in the UK before or since 31 December 2020.

If you’re interested, you can find out more about Brexit and the EU Settlement Scheme here.

Know your rights at work in the UK

  • A minimum wage – The national minimum wage in the UK varies depending on your age. You can figure out the exact figure by reading our article on UK minimum wage here.
  • A payslip – Your employer has to give you a payslip, telling you how much you’ve been paid. But the figure may vary. This is because your employer might take money from your wages for accommodation, meals, training, travel costs, or the cost of travel to the UK. They could also take money to pay the costs of arranging the job for you. Don’t panic though, there are rules about how much money your employer can take from your wages. So if you feel you’re being paid too little make sure to tell someone. For example, you can call the Pay and Work Rights Helpline on 0800 917 2368.
  • The freedom to leave – No one can stop you quitting your job if you want to. Sadly, you may not be allowed to find other work in the UK if you leave the job you came to the UK to do, or are sacked.
  • Health and safety protection Your boss has an obligation to make sure that you can do your job in a way that won’t injure you or make you ill.

Here are some circumstance-specific ones

  • Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) – You’re entitled to £96.35 per week Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) if you’re too ill to work. It’s paid by your employer for up to 28 weeks. Employees must give their employer a sick note (aka a fit note) from their doctors if they’ve taken sick leave for more than seven days in a row. This includes non-working days, such as weekends and bank holidays. Confused? Well, you can always learn more about sick pay here and/or how to get a sick note here.
  • Notice periods – Your contract of employment should include the minimum notice period you’re entitled to if you lose your job. Your employer may give you more than the statutory minimum, but they cannot give you less. This means that if you’ve been employed between one month and two years, you’ll get at least one month’s notice. You get one week’s notice for each year if you were employed between two and 12 years, and 12 weeks’ notice if you were employed for 12 years or more.
  • Maternity rights and benefits – Pregnant employees have the right to reasonable paid time off for antenatal care, protection from health and safety risks and the right to 52 weeks maternity leave from the very first day of their employment (26 weeks of ordinary maternity leave and 26 weeks of additional leave). To find out more about maternity leave and maternity pay, click here. And if you need info on parental leave then read our article on paternity leave here


Speaking of knowing your rights in the UK, under the Equality Act 2010, it’s against the law to discriminate against anyone at work because of:

  • Age
  • Gender reassignment
  • Being married or in a civil partnership
  • Being pregnant or on maternity leave
  • Disability
  • Race including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin
  • Religion or belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation

For more info, take a look at our article on discrimination at work here.

What to do if you’re being discriminated against at work

Here’s some advice if you’re facing discrimination in the workplace: 

  • Join a trade union – Union membership usually makes employers think twice about taking illegal action. They may also be able to help you take your employer to court. If you’re interested, you can learn more about trade unions here.
  • Look for a community organisation – Finding other people from your country who live nearby will help you feel supported. Plus, they’re likely to have experienced some of the things you’re going through.
  • Go to your local law centre – These places offer free legal advice in your local area, and have experts on both immigration and employment who can help you. You can find out how to contact your nearest one on the Law Centres Network website.

Sadly, not all migrant workers have the confidence to speak out about being treated badly, since their employment status directly affects their ability to live here. “Many migrants put up with awful conditions and treatment because they see remaining in the UK as the most important thing,” says Susan Cuevo. “Hopefully that can change because at the end of the day, we just want all workers to be treated like human beings.”

Next Steps

  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

By Anna Fielding

Updated on 03-Apr-2022