I'm Self-Employed. What Rights Do I Have?

You made your own mind up and went your own way. Now you're self-employed and enjoying your freedom.  You knew from the start you were giving up some financial security. It only makes sense that you're giving up your legal protection with it, right? Well, not necessarily.

When you're employed, you have a few laws on your side. They're mainly there to stop your employer taking advantage, or to keep you safe and healthy. When you're self-employed, some of those rights and protections disappear. That said, you're not left completely in the lurch. On the other side of the coin, if you're employing people yourself, you need to know your responsibilities. Here's a brief run-down of the rights and wrongs of employment law for the self-employed.

Health and Safety Laws

As an employee, your boss has an obligation to make sure you're not taking a lot of unnecessary risks. Obviously, an artist or writer won't face the same kinds of day-to-day hazards as a builder or a soldier. The principle's the same, though. The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 usually protects employees, but the self-employed need to be more alert.

You're basically responsible for your own welfare here, so go in with your eyes open. However, if you're working on someone else's premises, then you have a right to expect any dangers have been checked out. Keep in mind, you might have to look out for other people as well. Even if you're working for yourself, you can't go putting other people in danger.

Discrimation

When it comes to discrimination, you're just as covered as an employed worker. If someone tells you you're the wrong age, gender or nationality, they might have a nasty legal case to answer. It depends on the circumstances, of course - and can be tricky to prove. If you're self-employed and don't have a manager to complain to, you might have to fight your corner alone.

Sick Pay and Holiday Pay

One of the big pitfalls for the self-employed is sick pay. For a lot of people working for themselves, if they don't show up they don't get paid. You might be able to get help from the Department for Work and Pensions, but that's not something you can definitely rely on. In the same way, if you're self-employed on a low income you might get some DWP support.

Self-employed workers don't get holiday pay - or at least, they probably don't. For instance, if you're working full-time through an agency, they might be set up to offer paid holidays. Agency work is a complicated area, though, so don't count on it.

Contracts

If you sign contracts with your clients, you need to get used to checking out what rights and protections they give you. This kind of thing is going to vary a lot, depending on the client and industry - but you can't afford to ignore it. In particular, don't blindly sign anything that takes away the basic rights you do have - particularly around health and safety issues.

Keeping your business records in order if you're self employed will also help you at all times, particularly around self assessment tax return time when you don't want to miss any tax return deadlines.

At the end of the day, being self-employed is a trade-off. You don't get all the rights you would if you were employed, but you're not completely defenceless. Stay safe out there, and give RIFT a nudge if you need help or advice