General rights as a Fixed Term employee
Last updated: 31 May 2023
The Working Families advice team receives a lot of enquiries from people who are working on fixed-term contracts, and who need advice about their rights. If you are in a job where you are on probation, but your contract does not have a fixed end date, please see our advice page on probation.
Am I on a Fixed-Term contract?
You are employed on a fixed-term contract if both of the following apply:
- you have an employment contract with the organisation you work for; and
- your contract ends on a particular date, or on completion of a specific task, eg a project, or when a particular event does/does not occur.
You will not be a fixed-term employee (although you may be a “worker”) if you:
- have a contract with an agency rather than the company you are working for – all though do read our advice page on worker and employee status for further information on this issue, link below
- are a student or trainee on a work-experience placement
- are working under a ‘contract of apprenticeship’ or
- are a member of the armed forces, or in certain other professions where employment status does not apply.
For further advice about whether you may be an “employee”, or a “worker”, please see our detailed advice page.
Many employers use fixed-term contracts, for lots of different reasons – e.g. to cover another employee’s maternity leave, because they don’t know if they will have the funding for a permanent role, or to fill a skill gap that they have, where they are not certain that they want to commit to having that role permanently.
So, you may be a fixed-term employee if you are, for example:
- a seasonal employee taken on to cover a peak period
- a specialist employee taken on for a project
- covering for maternity leave
Fixed-term contracts will normally end automatically when they reach the agreed end date – the employer doesn’t have to give any notice, unless the contract says something different.
Your contract may say it is a fixed-term contract, or you might have been told this, but it might not be in the eyes of the law. For example, this may depend on how the contract allows you/the employer to give notice before the end date, or if it provides for the contract to be automatically renewed after each fixed-term, unless notice is served.
For this reason, it is important to look very carefully at the wording of your contract, and to take legal advice on it if you can.
What are my rights as a Fixed-Term employee?
As a fixed-term employee, you have the same rights as permanent employees for the purpose of general discrimination claims, meaning claims for discrimination on one of the protected grounds under the Equality Act 2010, such as sex. Please see our advice pages on discrimination for more information.
Employers must also not treat employees who are on fixed-term contracts less favourably than permanent employees who are doing the same or largely the same job, unless the employer can show that there is a good business reason to do so.
This is known as ‘objective justification’.
There are some particular laws which apply to fixed-term employees, which you may wish to look into for further information in this area:
- The Fixed-term Employees (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2002 (SI 2002/2034) – this UK law implemented the European law provisions in the Fixed-term Work Directive (1999/70/EC)
- The Fixed-term Employees (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) (Amendment) Regulations 2008 (SI 2008/2776).
So, as a general summary – if you are employed on a fixed-term contract, you have the legal right to be treated as if you were on a permanent contract, unless your employer can objectively justify any differences which they apply to you in your role, as compared with someone else working for that employer, doing broadly the same job.
An example given by the Government’s own website is as follows:
Rupa is a fixed-term employee on a 3-month contract. A permanent employee doing the same kind of job has a company car, but Rupa’s employer may choose to not offer her one for such a short period if the cost is too high.
Employers must also ensure that fixed-term employees receive the following, unless it can be objectively justified not to do so:
- the same pay, conditions and the same or equivalent benefits as permanent staff – e.g. pension rights, and access to training
- information about permanent vacancies in the organisation
- protection against redundancy or dismissal
However, please note that fixed-term employees are only entitled to the same rights as permanent staff working for the same employer, and not an associated employer’s organisation.
If you believe that you are being treated less favourably than a permanent employee in your workplace, you can write to your employer asking them about this issue, and asking for reasons for any different treatment. Your employer must reply within 21 days in writing.
If you are dismissed because you have alleged that your employer has treated you (or anyone else who is a fixed-term employee) less favourably than permanent employees then your dismissal might be “automatically unfair”, and you could potentially have a claim for unfair dismissal even if you have less than 2 years’ service. This would also apply to your situation if you have made a claim against your employer for less favourable treatment, or if you were involved as a witness in another person’s claim for less favourable treatment.
As this is a complex area of law, please do seek expert legal advice if you are having difficulties at work, and before you bring a claim. Please note that in equal pay claims, a different legal approach may be taken to comparing terms and conditions, and you should seek specialist legal advice from someone who has experience in equal pay cases.
If your difficulty at work relates to your caring responsibilities, you can call our free advice Helpline, or email us for advice, and please do read our detailed advice pages for more information.
What if I have been working for the company for a long time, e.g. more than 2 years?
If you have been working for the same employer under a fixed-term contract for two years or more, additional rights will apply:
- You will also have “Unfair Dismissal” rights after being employed for two years, and the ending of your contract by your employer will count as a “dismissal” in employment law terms. For more information please see our detailed advice page on Unfair Dismissal.
- You will also have the same redundancy rights after being employed for two years as a permanent employee. For more information please see our detailed advice page on Redundancy.
What if my fixed-term contract was extended/repeated?
If you have been employed on repeated fixed-term contracts, or extensions to your fixed-term contract, for more than four years, your employment will become permanent, and the repeated renewal of your contract will have no effect, unless it can be objectively justified. (Note, this does not apply to a fixed-term contract of 4 years or more).
If you believe that your contract has become permanent, you can write to your employer asking them to confirm this. If your employer wants to say that this is not the case, they must reply within 21 days in writing setting out their reason/reasons why not.
There is more information on these issues on the Gov.UK website.
What can I do to enforce my rights at work?
Normally we would advise that the best thing to do in the first instance is to try to sort out any problems informally with your manager, or HR, if possible.
You will have read our advice above about requesting written reasons from your employer.
Please note that there are very strict time limits for bringing claims to the Employment Tribunal. Here is more information on time limits, and what you would have to do to start a claim.
We have lots of information on how to raise problems with your employer, and what to think about if you are thinking about bringing a claim against your employer.
This advice applies in England, Wales and Scotland. If you live in another part of the UK, the law may differ. Please call our helpline for more details. If you are in Northern Ireland you can visit the Labour Relations Agency or call their helpline Workplace Information Service on 03300 555 300.
If you have further questions and would like to contact our advice team please use our advice contact form below or call us.
The information on the law contained on this site is provided free of charge and does not, and is not intended to, amount to legal advice to any person on a specific case or matter. If you are not a solicitor, you are advised to obtain specific legal advice about your case or matter and not to rely solely on this information. Law and guidance is changing regularly in this area.
We cannot provide advice on employment rights in Northern Ireland as the law is different. You can visit the Labour Relations Agency or call their helpline Workplace Information Service on 03300 555 300.