Temporary (fixed-term) employees

A fixed-term contract expires on a date specified in that contract.

If you are in this category, you are covered by the Fixed-Term Employees (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2002 (FTER). These regulations mean you are entitled to the equivalent rights and treatment given to comparable, permanent employees. They are based on the EU framework agreement on fixed-term work, and therefore potentially at risk from Brexit. They apply only to employees and do not cover agency workers or apprentices.

If you are an employee on a fixed-term contract, you are entitled to paid holidays in proportion to the length of your contract. If you have a series of fixed-term contracts, they are added together to assess your holiday pay rights.

While the FTER cover all contract terms, individual terms can differ from those for a permanent employee if the employer can demonstrate that the overall employment package is just as favourable.

The FTER give you the same rights as permanent staff to a written statement of your main contractual terms, and to 'guarantee pay' (you are entitled to this during lay-off or short-time working. The maximum you can get is £30 a day for five days in any three-month period – i.e. a maximum of £150.

If you usually earn less than £30 a day, you will get your normal daily rate. If you work part-time, your entitlement is worked out proportionally) and medical suspension pay. You are subject to the same qualifying periods for employment benefits. You should also have the same training opportunities or the chance to secure a permanent job.

If you think you are being treated less favourably as a fixed-term employee, you should compare your treatment to that of a permanent staff member doing the same or similar work, at the same location. If no-one fits those criteria, you may compare your pay and benefits with a comparable employee at another establishment.

Your employer is, though, allowed to treat you less favourably in certain situations – if they can show there is a good business reason for doing so. This is known as 'objective justification'.

The GOV.UK website gives this example: 'Sam is a fixed-term employee on a 3-month contract. A permanent employee doing the same kind of job has a company car, but Sam's employer may choose to not offer him one for such a short period if the cost is too high.'

If you think you have been treated less favourably because you are a temporary employee, you are entitled to a written statement explaining the difference in treatment. If you take your case to a tribunal, you may use this as evidence.

Rolling contracts

If you work continuously on fixed-term contracts for at least four years, you will automatically become a permanent employee unless your employer can demonstrate a good business reason for not doing this (FTER, regulation 8). If your employer keeps renewing fixed-term contracts to cover what they say are 'temporary' staffing needs, when those needs are actually permanent, this is likely to breach the FTER.

Despite this, unions or staff associations are able to make a collective agreement with an employer to remove the automatic right to become a permanent employee after four continuous years of fixed-term contracts.

If you work a series of fixed-term contracts, with breaks in between, you may lose employment rights that depend on a 'qualifying period'. For example, in most cases, you need at least two years' continuous employment in order to be able to bring a claim of unfair dismissal. You may need help from a union lawyer or officer to check the rules on statutory continuous service and determine whether your employment pattern qualifies.