Continuous employment

Many of your employment rights only apply if you have a minimum period of continuous employment. Continuous employment usually means working for the same employer without a break, however there are exceptions to this.

What continuous employment means

Continuous employment usually means working for the same employer without a break. Absence from work due to any of the following counts as continuous employment, provided your employment contract continues throughout:

  • sickness
  • maternity leave
  • paternity leave
  • adoption leave
  • parental leave
  • temporary lay-off
  • holiday breaks
  • other time off allowed by your contract of employment
  • flexible working requests

Continuous service is worked out in months and years, starting with the date you began work for your employer. If there is a break in your employment then normally none of the weeks or months before that date will count as continuous service.

For example, if you worked for a company for five years and then took a job with another business for six months before returning to your original employer. Your continuous employment would not include the five years you previously worked for the company.

Breaks in your continuous employment

There are some circumstances where short breaks in your employment contract can still be counted as continuous employment.

Weeks when there is no contract

If you do not have a contract of employment with your employer for a number of weeks, the time still could count towards your continuous employment, if:

  • you are away from work sick or injured and you are then taken back on as an employee within 26 weeks of the contract being terminated or cancelled
  • work stops temporarily
  • you are away in circumstances that your employer regards as continuous employment because of an arrangement or custom in your workplace

Reinstatement after an unfair dismissal claim

Following an unfair dismissal claim and reinstatement, weeks which fall between the date you were dismissed and the date that you are reinstated count towards your continuous employment.

Strike action

During industrial or strike action your continuous employment is treated as 'postponed'. This means that the period you were on strike for will not count towards your continuous employment, but it does not break the continuity of your period of employment.

Instead your starting date is treated as being postponed for that number of days. For example, if you started with a new employer on 1 February and over the course of a year you spent five days on strike, your starting date for continuous employment would be 6 February.

Overseas employment

Working abroad generally counts towards your period of continuous employment. If you are trying to work out how much redundancy pay you could be entitled to, overseas employment may count. You will need to have been classed as an employed earner for social security purposes during that week.

For further guidance on what this means for you, contact:

Time with a previous employer

If you change employer that normally counts as a break in your employment. However, there are certain situations where time with a previous employer can count towards the continuous employment with your current employer. These are:

  • if the business you work for is transferred to another employer (also known as TUPE)
  • if by, or under, any statutory provision one corporate body takes over from another as your employer
  • if your employer dies and their personal representatives or trustees keep you in employment
  • if there is a change in the partners, personal representatives or trustees who employ the employee
  • if you move from one employer to another 'associated' employer, meaning one of the companies is part of or related to the other company (either directly or indirectly)
  • if you are employed by a health service employer and you move to another health service employer while undergoing training
  • employment may be treated as continuous (for redundancy pay purposes) if you are employed by a specified local government employer and move to another specified employer within Northern Ireland. (Similar legislative provisions operate in Great Britain but there is currently no reciprocal arrangement between Northern Ireland and Great Britain)
  • Employment protection during business transfers and takeovers (TUPE)

What to do if you have problems

It is always best to try and sort out any problem with your employer informally. If you are a member of a trade union, you can get help, advice and support from them.

If you are in a dispute about your length of service that you cannot resolve, you may be able to make an application to an Industrial Tribunal.

Where to get help

The Labour Relations Agency  and Advice NI offer free, confidential and impartial advice on all employment rights issues for residents of Northern Ireland.

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