The European Working Time Directive and parts of the Young Workers Directive have been implemented in the UK through the Working Time Regulations. First introduced in 1998, the regulations are regularly updated to reflect statutory holiday and similar provisions. The last significant change to the principles was in 2003 when rights and protections were extended to previously excluded groups of workers including junior doctors in training. But note that other specific rules apply to some employees in businesses covering
• air, road, or sea transport
• inland waterways and lakes
• sea fishing.
Although the Working Time Directive itself allows member states to give individual workers the right to opt-out of the weekly limit on their working hours the UK is the only country to do so. Despite regular challenges and proposals to remove the opt-out provision, it remains in place.
The Working Time Regulations are not made under the Health and Safety at Work Act but are nonetheless a health and safety law. Their purpose is to ensure that workers get sufficient rest to enable them to carry out their duties safely when they are at work and protect their long-term health. Limits are therefore applied to the total hours that an individual works, regardless of how many jobs they do. Employers are required to keep a record of the hours worked by every employee. They must also ensure that workers do not exceed the legal limits and, for part time workers, must take account hours worked for another employer.
|Workers aged 18 and over|
|Maximum working hours||48 hours per week averaged over 17 weeks (unless there is a signed opt out or an agreement to extend the 17 week period)|
|Minimum rest breaks during shifts||20 minutes for shifts lasting more than six hours|
|Minimum rest breaks between working days||11 consecutive hours|
|Days off per week||24 hours out of seven days or 48 hours out of 14 days|
|Workers aged under 18|
|Maximum working hours||40 hours per week (or eight hours per day)|
|Minimum rest breaks during shifts||30 minutes for shifts lasting more than four and a half hours|
|Minimum rest breaks between working days||12 consecutive hours|
|Days off per week||48 hours|
There are different rules and rights depending on the worker and the type of work they do. In many cases they can be varied by agreement; agreement between employers and individual or groups of workers.
The table shows the basic requirements for most adult and young workers.
Travel between home and work should not be counted as working time, nor should lunch breaks, evening classes or day-release courses. However, it does include:
• work-related training
• travel as part of an employee's duties
• working lunches
The period over which the weekly maximum hours can be averaged may be extended to any period between 17 and 52 weeks with the individual agreement of an employee or through a collective agreement with your workforce. In either case, the agreement must be in writing and signed by both parties. Averaging working time over 52 weeks can be particularly useful for a business with big seasonal variations in activity. Workers can overturn any agreement whenever they wish but must give you 7 days’ notice.
Workers age 16 and 17 must not work more than 40 hours a week or eight hours a day. Their working hours may not be averaged out and there is no opt-out.
Exceptions to the rules about working hours, rest breaks and rest periods include:
• workers who
̵ work a long way from where they live
̵ have to travel to different places for work
̵ are engaged in security or surveillance work
̵ do jobs that require round-the-clock staffing
• some employees working in rail transport
• exceptionally busy periods
In these cases:
• you should average workers' hours over 26 weeks, rather than 17 weeks, to find their average working week and
• they are entitled to accumulate their rest periods and take them at a later date - called compensatory rest
There are also exemptions for workers who choose their own working hours. Workers who can decide when to do their work and how long they work, such as senior managers, are likely to be in this category; those without this freedom to choose are not. Workers who are:
• paid hourly and claiming paid overtime
• working under close supervision
• who are implicitly required to work - e.g. because of output requirements to be achieved in a specified period
will not fall into this category. Those who do are exempt from the rules about:
• the maximum average hours a worker can work each week
• rest breaks
• rest periods
Despite the exemptions, nobody can be forced to work more than an average of 48 hours a week against their will.
The working time regulations also cover workers that work during the night. Night work is generally classed as a period between 11:00pm and 6:00am. An employee can agree with the employer to change the night period. If this is agreed then the shift must be at least seven hours long and must be between midnight to 5:00am.
A night worker will be classed as somebody that works regularly for at least three hours during the night time period
• on most of the days a night worker works
• on a proportion of the days a night worker works, which is specified in a collective or workforce agreement between your employer and the trade union
• if a night worker works such hours on a regular basis
There are restrictions for night workers as they should not work more than an average of eight hours in each 24-hour period. This excludes overtime.
If the night work involves special hazards or heavy physical or mental strain, a night worker cannot be made to work more than eight hours in any 24-hour period.
For night workers there is an absolute limit rather than an average limit and includes daytime overtime. With absolute limits a night worker cannot work over eight hours in any 24-hour period. Average limits allow a night worker to average the hours they work over a set period.
An employer should identify any hazards in the work a night worker carries out and should assess how harmful the hazard could be and the employer will need to take steps to reduce any risks.
There are separate special rules for workers in air, sea and road transport.
A night worker does not have limits on night working hours if they work in
• jobs where a person can choose freely how long they will work
• the armed forces, emergency services and police are excluded in some circumstances
• domestic servants in private houses
Limits on night work do not apply if
• A worker who has to travel a long distance from their home to get to work or they constantly work in different places
• the job includes doing security or surveillance-based work
• a worker works in an industry with busy peak periods, like agriculture, retail or tourism
• there is an emergency or there might be an accident
• the job needs round-the-clock staffing
• you are employed in the rail industry and you work on board trains
• you are employed in the rail industry and your activities are irregular or linked to seeing that trains run on time
• you are a mobile worker (work in road or air transport); although the mobile worker will be entitled to ‘adequate rest’ which means that the mobile worker should have a rest from work that is long enough to ensure that a worker is not at risk of injuring themselves or others around them.
For any of the above scenarios the reference period to calculate a workers weekly time limit is extended from 17 to 26 weeks.
Employers must offer night workers a free health assessment before they commence night work and at 12 month intervals thereafter. The assessment should comprise of a questionnaire and a medical examination if the employer deems it necessary. Health assessments should consider the following the type of work involved. Plus any risks need to be highlighted and minimised where possible. If the assessment identifies a health problem that could be made worse by night work, the worker should be transferred to day work if this is possible and would depend on if there was work available in the day.
For further advice and information don’t forget that the Peninsula 24 hour Advice Service is always available to take your call and offer assistance on 0844 892 2772.