Legal Maximum Working Hours

  • Working Time
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Maximum Working Hours advice guide for employers from Peninsula Business Services UK. Employers call us today on 0800 0282 420.

Every business has their own requirements when it comes to average working hours.

Employers must comply with legal regulations - for both the daily and weekly limit. If you neglect them, your staff could end up working over the legal limit. It could also lead to missing wages, workplace disputes, and tribunal claims.

In this guide, we'll look at what the maximum number of working hours are, what the law covers, and how to make sure your work schedules are within the legal limits.

Peninsula also offer a HR documentation service, meaning we'll create bespoke contract and documentation - ensuring compliance at all times.

Peninsula provides total support on any HR or Health & Safety issue you have. From unlimited advice to our full documentation and risk assessment services, we'll ensure compliance at all times, contact us today.

We provide advice and support to companies of all sizes - large (200+ employees), medium (51-200 employees), small (1-49 employees), and start-ups.

We also offer total tribunal support if an employee raises a claim against you, contact us today and see how we can support you.

What is the maximum number of working hours?

In the UK, employees and workers must not work more than 48 hours a week on average. (Total hours are calculated based on a 17-week reference period).

The 48-hour limit is in place to protect their health, safety, and welfare. For example, getting stressed or exhausted from overworking.

In some cases, people may work more than the maximum weekly working time. This could be due to their own choice; or because of the nature of their job.

What law covers working hours?

Working hours are covered by the Working Time Regulations 1998 (WTR). These outline different rules for:

The regulations apply to both employees and workers. For example, agency, zero-hours, and casual workers.

What counts as working time?

Working time relates to the hours spent performing tasks and duties related to their job.

During this working time period, staff are at their employer's disposal due to their contract of employment. Working time can involve a number of things, like:

  • Training for work-related tasks or requirements.
  • Time spent travelling as part of their job (if it isn't not in a fixed place).
  • Working lunches (like meeting a client for a business lunch).
  • Staying late due to paid or unpaid overtime.
  • Staying on-call (including contract travel needs).

How do you calculate average weekly working hours?

Employers can work out average weekly working hours through specific calculations.

Firstly, you need to add the total hours someone has worked in a 17-week reference period. Then, divide this by 17 to get the average hours worked per week.

If someone has worked less than 17 weeks, it's best to use their exact number of weeks. Some jobs may require staff to work longer than maximum hours allowed per week. For example:

  • 24-hour staffing, like the armed forces.
  • Security and surveillance, like security guards.
  • Emergency services, like paramedics or junior doctors.
  • Private household work, like a domestic servant.
  • Senior positions, like a managing executive.

Remember, young workers cannot work beyond the legal weekly limit. Here, maximum hours are set to 40 hours as a weekly limit.

How do you calculate average daily working hours?

The Working Time Regulations directly outline average weekly working hours. But they don't specify a set number of hours you can work in a day.

Average hours per day are calculated in relation to rest break regulations. For example, people are entitled to:

20-minute rest break

This break must be given to those working more than 6 hours in a day. Young workers are entitled to a 30-minute break after working more than 4.5 hours.

11-hour rest break

This break must be given between each 24-hour period that a person works. Young workers are entitled to 12 hours rest between each 24-hour period.

24-hour rest break

This break must be given each working week; or as a 48-hour break per fortnight. Young workers are entitled to a 48-hour break as a weekly limit.

Remember, break entitlements still apply to those working more than the 48-hour weekly working time limit.

Can you legally work more than 48 hours a week?

Yes, people can legally work for more than 48-hour weekly limit. This is often the case when calculating the number of hours worked from two or more jobs.

Workers can choose to opt-out of the legal rules for maximum hours. This decision must be documented through a written agreement. An opt-out agreement can include certain information; for example:

  • The person agrees that the 48-hour weekly limit doesn't apply to their contractual hours.
  • The employer specifies the number of hours worked by the person (as a weekly limit).
  • The employer takes reasonable steps towards the person's health, safety, and welfare during these hours.
  • The employer provides information on how to opt-out of these time limits.
  • The person agrees to complete their notice period if they choose to end their opt-out agreement.

Workers can choose to end their opt-out agreement if they wish, even if it's part of their employment contract. They'll need to provide this in writing; and may be required to work a notice period.

Can night workers opt-out of night working?

Night workers cannot opt-out of their night working limit. This is due to the nature of a job or the industry it runs in. (Unless their work hours are in breach of the Working Time Regulations).

However, a night worker must not work more than 8 hours (on average) in any 24-hour period. But these special rules for certain types of night work. For example, night work laws don’t usually apply to workers in emergency services.

They can only opt-out through a collective or workforce agreement. If they are denied legal entitlements, they may raise this to an employment tribunal (ET). For example, being denied fair work hours or break entitlements)

How to manage working hours for your staff

A 48-hour working week looks different for everyone. So, employers must ensure time spent working doesn't go beyond maximum hours.

If you need staff to work more than 48 hours a week, make sure the right steps are taken. This will protect your staff's welfare - as well as your business's.

Let's look at ways to manage work hours for your staff:

Offer normal working hours

The first step employers should take is to offer normal working hours. These shouldn't go beyond the average of 48 hours per week.

If you need people to work fewer hours, this must be calculated properly. If one worker isn't given fair working time, they could decide to leave or raise this as a discrimination claim.

There might be times where you require staff to work more than an average of 48-hours per week. So, make sure they know why they're working over their maximum limit and if opt-out rights still apply.

Provide proper rest breaks

The next step is to provide proper rest breaks. This can be done through daily breaks, as well as breaks in between working days. Workers have a legal right to a:

  • 20-minute break after every six hours (either as rest or lunch breaks).
  • 11-hour break between each workday.
  • 24-hour break in one week, or a 48-hour break per fortnight.

Change work hours properly

There might be times where you need to change work hours in someone's employment contract.

Employers can only change work hours if their business reasons comply with the Working Time Regulations, as well as other laws. These requests can be made through a relevant agreement, like:

  • Workforce agreements (between employers and employee representatives).
  • Collective agreements (between employers and recognised trade unions).
  • Employment contracts (between employers and their staff).

Create an opt-out agreement

Some businesses may require people to work longer than the 48-hour limit. If you do, it's important to create an opt-out agreement.

A written agreement helps with keeping records of those working more than 48-hour weeks. As well as committing to protect their welfare, health, and safety in the most reasonable manner.

Employers cannot enforce opt-out agreements; and workers have a right to cancel them if they wish to. Make sure they request this in writing and provide a notice at least seven days beforehand.

Get expert advice on maximum working hours with Peninsula

Employers must ensure their workers are given the safest amount of work hours per week.

If you need them to work more than 48 hours a week, make sure you follow all proper legal requirements.

That way you can protect their health, safety, and welfare - whatever their working weekly limit is. If you neglect the rules, you could end up facing compensation fines and reputational damages.

Peninsula offers expert advice on managing maximum working hours. Our HR team offers 24/7 HR employment advice which is available 365 days a year.

Get further support from one of our HR consultants or call us today on 0800 0282 420.


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