Working Time Regulations

The Working Time Regulations – what you need to know

If you employ staff, or are thinking of doing so, you need to be aware of the Working Time Regulations. These contain all the rules that govern how long your staff can work, how much holiday, and so on. So when you are calculating the resource that you need, you need to have all this information to hand. You can find out more at Simplify the Law.

The Working Time Directive

The Working Time Regulations implemented the EU Working Time Directive into UK law. This means that when changes in the EU law take place they are followed by changes in the British regulations. So it’s always worth keeping an eye on what’s happening in Europe.

The Working Time Regulations

The Working Time Regulations put a limit on the number of hours that employees can be required to work each week, sets minimum rest periods, and specifies the amount of holiday they are entitled to. But there are exceptions

Exclusions and exceptions apply in relation to specific industries and sectors, or in relation to the means by which employers and employees agree that the regulations will not apply (“opting out”).

The main points of the Regulations are summarised here. These are the general rules – the detailed exceptions are set out in the regulations.

Remember that employees should have their working patterns described in their contract of employment, or the written statement of particulars that you are obliged to give them. Unless the employee has explicitly opted out, the contract cannot specify a working pattern that exceeds the statutory limits.

Maximum working hours

In general, the maximum weekly limit on working time is 48 hours, averaged over a rolling 17- week period. The limits for young workers (those who have not reached 18) are 8 hours per day, and 40 hours per week.

Night workers’ hours must not exceed an average of 8 hours in 24, averaged over 17 weeks. Young workers are not generally allowed to do night work.

Holiday entitlement

Most employees are entitled to a minimum of 5.6 weeks’ paid holiday per year. For full-time workers (ie those who work 5 days per week or more) this means 28 days. There is no automatic right to bank holidays, so those 28 days can include bank holidays. It’s a good idea to specify whether the holiday entitlement that your staff have includes bank holidays.

For part-time workers, the entitlement is still 5.6 weeks – but it is related to the number of days per week that they work. So a four day working week would mean 22.4 days of holiday. Usually it would be sensible to round this up to a number that is divisible into whole or half days.

Find out more about paid holidays at Simplify the Law.

Rest periods

An employees who work for more than 6 hours per day is entitled to a rest break of at least 20 minutes, away from their workstation. For young workers, the period is 30 minutes if the working day is more than four and a half hours.

Employees are entitled to 11 consecutive hours rest from work in each 24 hour period. For young workers the period is 12 hours.

Employees are entitled to an uninterrupted 24 hour rest period in each week, or two in each fortnight.

Exclusions and exceptions to the Working Time Regulations

There are detailed exclusions from the Working time  applicable to particular industries, or where particular conditions apply. For example:

  • people employed in shipping or fishing
  • people whose working time is not measured or predetermined because of the nature of their role
  • where someone’s activities require a period of continuous service or production (for example: involvement in medical care, work at docks or airports or in the media, production and distribution of essential domestic services, where work cannot be interrupted on technical grounds, research and development, agriculture)
  • exceptional circumstances beyond the employer’s control, such as the occurrence or prevention of accidents.

Opting out

An employee can agree that the provisions of the Regulations relating to maximum weekly working time will not apply to them. An employee can also revoke that agreement later, without detriment or penalty. It is permissible to require a prospective employee to opt out before agreeing to employ them – so it may be written into their contract of employment. But you cannot prevent them from revoking that opt-out later. A better way may be to have the opt-out as a separate agreement. You can begin the process by drafting a
maximum weekly hours opt-out agreement.

Draft a maximum weekly hours opt-out agreement on Simplify the Law

Collective or workforce agreements may be reached which exclude or adapt the rules relating to rest periods, or affect the way in which maximum weekly working hours are calculated.

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