Working Time

  • Working Time
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Peninsula Group, HR and Health & Safety Experts

(Last updated )

As an employer, managing your employee's hours worked is crucial. Especially when it comes to dealing with payroll. So, you need to become familiar with the legal requirements for both working hours and break entitlements.

Failure to provide the legal amounts can lead to serious claims being raised against you at an employment tribunal. This could lead to heavy fines to pay and reputational damages.

In this guide, we'll discuss the legal requirements for employers, what the Working Time Regulations are, and how to ensure you’re acting legally.

What does working time mean?

Working time is the amount of time employees work in a singular day or week.

An employee's working hours can either be shift work or regularly scheduled days. An example of these can be two six hours shifts, or an employee working 9-5 in the office each day.

Most employees are protected by the Working Time Regulations 1998. They were introduced to ensure employees receive what they're entitled to when it comes to their working hours.

What are the Working Time Regulations?

The Working Time Regulations lay down the minimum entitlements your employees must receive.

They give employees the right to paid annual leaverest breaks, and limits on night work. An employee's average working hours are calculated over 17 weeks.

Not sticking to the regulations can lead to future claims being raised against you by your workers.

What is the UK working hours limit?

Under the Working Time Regulations, the legal limit for working hours in the UK is 48 hours a week. This is an average of eight working hours per day.

As per the Office for National Statistics, the average weekly working hours for a full-time worker in the UK is 33.6 hours a week.

Are all employees protected by the Working Time Regulations?

No, not all employees are protected by the Working Time Regulations. As an employer, you need to understand which areas don't receive protection:

  • Jobs where an employee can choose how freely they can work, for example a managing executive.
  • The armed forces, emergency services, and police (however they receive annual leave). 
  • A domestic servant in private houses.

What happens if you don't abide by the Working Time Regulations?

As an employer, you must provide your employees with their working time entitlements. Failure to do so could lead to an employee resigning due to being overworked This could potentially result in a constructive dismissal claim being raised.

You must never dismiss an employee for taking a break or using their entitlements. This can lead to a claim being raised against you at an employment tribunal, with heavy financial fines or reputational damages to pay.

What are contractual hours?

Contractual hours are an employee's normal working hours. These should be signed off by both employer and employee.

You must provide your employees with a written contract detailing the main terms and conditions of employment on the day of of them starting. This is a legal right.

A contract includes any compulsory , salary, and paid leave entitlements. Remember, an employee only has to work overtime if it's stated within the contract.

Can employees work more than 48 hours a week?

Yes, employers can ask employees to work more than the maximum of 48 hours a week in certain circumstances. Most workers should not have to work more than the limit but if this is the case, it's known as "opting out".

What does it mean to opt-out of a 48-hour working week?

If an employee wants to work more than an average of 48 hours in a week, they can sign an opt-out agreement.

The employee can cancel the agreement if they feel the extra hours are causing physical or mental health problems.

Be aware that you can't force employees to sign an opt-out agreement. As well as this, you can't dismiss an employee for failing to sign one. If this happens, a claim may be raised against you at an employment tribunal.

What is included in an employee's working week?

As well as carrying out their normal duties and responsibilities, the following is included in their working week:

  • Job related-training.
  • Job-related travelling time (for example if you employ a sales rep).
  • Working lunches.
  • Time spent working abroad.
  • Paid and some unpaid overtime (where it's volunteered, for example staying late).
  • Time spent "on-call".

As well as understanding what's included in the working week, you need to familiarise yourself with what doesn't class as work.

What doesn't class as work?

The below doesn't classify as work, meaning the time taken to complete these tasks doesn't qualify as part of an employee’s working day.

  • Lunch breaks.
  • Traveling to and from work.
  •  Traveling outside of normal working hours (if not for work purposes).
  • Paid holiday.
  • Sick leave.
  • Maternity, paternity, and adoption.
  • Rest breaks.
  • Evening classes or a day-release course, unless work-related.

As an employer, you need to understand how many breaks employees are entitled to depending on their hours worked.

How many rest breaks are employees entitled to?

Under the Working Time Regulations, your employees are entitled to rest breaks and rest periods throughout the week.

The regulations make clear the following break entitlements employees must receive:

  • A right to eleven hours of rest per day.
  • A right to an in-work break if their working day is longer than six hours.
  • A right to a full day off each week.

Your employees must receive their breaks, failure can be a potential health & safety risk.

What are the working time limits for night workers?

An employee is classed as a night worker if they work at least three hours between the hours of 11 pm and 6 am regularly.

A night worker can work a legal shift of up to twelve hours. However, the average length of their shift is under eight hours within 24 hours.

What are the working time limits for young workers?

Young workers have different working entitlements than workers aged over 18. They must not work more than eight hours a day or 40 hours a week.

They must receive a 30-minute break for every four-and-a-half hours of work, and twelve hours rest in a 24 hours period

Workers aged 16 or 17 are prohibited from working between the hours of midnight and 4 am.

What are the regulations for employees who work two jobs?

Employees who work two jobs shouldn't work more than 48 hours a week. However if they do, they should sign an opt-out agreement or reducing their working hours to meet the 48-hour limit.

Are employees entitled to time off for public duties?

Under the Employment Rights Act 1996, you must provide reasonable time off for some employees to carry out public duties. For example school and college governors.

Do you have to let employees have time off for court service?

Yes, if an employee is called up for jury duty or to be a witness in a case - you must provide them with time off. Failure to do so can lead you to being held in contempt of court.

Employers aren't legally required to pay their employees during jury service. This is completely up to the individual employer. However, if you choose to take this option it could have a positive impact on your employee morale

Are all employees entitled to time off for being union members?

Employees who are trade union officials have a statutory right to take paid time off to carry out their duties. Employees who are just trade members have a right to reasonable time off to take part in union activities.

Examples of these activities are:

  • Attending meetings regarding the outcomes of negotiations.
  • Voting in union elections.
  • Meetings of union officials.

Get expert advice on working time from Peninsula

As an employer, you need to become familiar with the legal requirements for both working hours, and break entitlements.

Failure to provide the legal amounts can lead to serious claims being raised against you at an employment tribunal, with heavy fines and reputational damages.

Peninsula offers you expert 24/7 HR advice and support, helping you to treat our employees correctly. Contact us on 0800 029 4384.

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