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Fixed term contracts

A guide for RCN members about fixed term contracts.

The Fixed-Term Employees (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2002 offer legal protection to fixed term employees.

Not all workers are covered by the regulations - it covers employees who are employed under a contract of employment. For further information on the distinction between a worker and an employee, see our guidance on agency workers.

Clear guidance for employers and employees on fixed term work can be found on Gov.uk. Guidance on the regulations for Northern Ireland have been published by the Department of Employment and Learning.

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Less favourable treatment

Fixed term employees have the right not to be treated less favourably than similar permanent employees because they have a fixed term contract, unless the different treatment can be justified.

If your employer accepts there is less favourable treatment but is claiming there is a justifiable reason for this, you have the right to request details of this in writing. Your employer must then supply you with a written statement within 21 days.

The employer must be able to demonstrate, objectively, that they have a good reason for treating you less favourably. Your employer should have considered your needs and rights and tried to balance those against business objectives. 

If your employer fails to provide the statement outlining the reasons for the less favourable treatment, you could request a meeting to discuss the matter and confirm in writing what has been discussed. This may help resolve the matter informally. 

If this is unsuccessful speak to us on 0345 772 6100 to discuss any formal options.

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Access to job opportunities

The fixed-term workers regulations established the right for fixed term employees to have the opportunity to secure any permanent position in the establishment in which they work.

Fixed term employees have the right to be informed about permanent employment opportunities in the organisation and you should be treated fairly if you wish to apply for those posts.

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Pension rights

Your employer is obliged to offer you access to pension schemes on the same basis as comparable permanent employees unless different treatment is objectively justified.

However, there is no right to alternative benefits unless also offered to comparable permanent employees such as contributions to a private pension.

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Length of fixed term contracts: the four year limit

The regulations limit the use of successive fixed term contracts for longer than four years. The contract will become permanent as soon as the four year anniversary of the first contract comes around.

Contracts must be successive so the employee is continuously employed with a break of no more than one week.

However, it is important to note that the regulations allow that a collective and workforce agreement may be reached between the employer and the employee which can vary these rules. They can agree on a system that states:

  • a limit on the number of successive fixed-term contracts
  • a limit on the length of successive fixed-term contracts
  • objective reasons justifying the renewal of fixed-term contracts.

If you believe that your employer is failing to follow the above provisions, please contact us for further support.

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Redundancy

Fixed term employees who have been employed continuously for two or more years have a right to redundancy pay. For more information please see our guidance on redundancy and check your employer’s own policy.

Employers must act fairly when considering a redundancy situation and a fixed-term employee cannot be selected for redundancy purely because of your employment status. If your employer is considering making you redundant whilst employed on a fixed term contract, call us for further support on 0345 772 6100. If the redundancy was not fair then it may count as an unfair dismissal.

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Dismissal and unfair dismissal

In most cases, a dismissal due to the ending of a fixed term contract will be a fair dismissal, and therefore your employer will not be acting unlawfully. You may be able to claim redundancy pay if you are dismissed after at least two years employment, even if some or all of these two years are on fixed term contracts.

There may be circumstances where a fixed-term employee can nevertheless claim they have been dismissed unfairly. Regulations 6 (1) and (3) of the fixed-term employee regulations make it automatically unfair to dismiss an employee (and the normal qualifying periods) if the grounds for dismissal are that the employee:

  • brought proceedings against the employer under the regulations
  • requested from their employer a written statement of reasons for less favourable treatment
  • requested from their employer a written statement confirming that his contract is no longer fixed-term or that they are now a permanent employee
  • gave evidence or information in connection with such proceedings brought by any employee
  • otherwise did anything under these regulations in relation to the employer or any other person
  • alleged that the employer had infringed these regulations
  • refused (or proposed to refuse) to forgo a right conferred on him by these regulations
  • declined to sign a workforce agreement for the purposes of these regulations
  • being a representative of members of the workforce for the purposes of schedule one
  • being a candidate in an election in which any person elected will, on being elected, become such a representative
  • performed (or proposed to perform) any functions or activities as such a representative or candidate.

If you feel you have been unfairly dismissed, call us for advice on 0345 772 6100.

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Call the RCN on: 03457726100


Page last updated - 25/01/2018