The restrictions on the number of hours that most employees can work are set out in the Working Time Regulations. Under these regulations employees are free to work any hours up to a maximum 48 hours per week on average without any restrictions. Some industries are more tightly regulated so it is always worth checking any industry specific regulations to your sector or the type of work.
If employees want to work, or are willing to work, beyond the set 48 hour limit then they will need to complete an opt out form This form should be separate from any contract of employment, although it can be provided at the same time, to avoid any suggestion that an employee was pressured into signing an opt out in order to gain employment. You cannot force an employee to sign the opt out and regularly work more than 48 hours per week on average and you cannot penalise them for not doing so.
Even if an employee has signed an opt out of the 48 hour maximum they do have the right to opt back in if they so choose. The employee will have to give a minimum of seven days notice to opt back in but a longer specified notice period, up to a maximum of 3 months, can be set down in the opt out agreement.
It is important to remember that the 48 hour week is an average. This is normally calculated over a 17 week reference period, excluding any periods of annual leave, so it does not mean that you can never go beyond 48 hours without their prior agreement. However, you should always monitor the hours your employees are working, including any hours they are working for any other employer, to make sure that they are not working beyond 48 hours on average without having signed an opt out.
The 48 hour maximum was established under health and safety regulations so you should always consider whether or not you are willing to let your employees work beyond this limit, even if they wish to, and it is worth monitoring their total work ours to ensure that it is not becoming excessive and damaging to their health.
There are other rights to consider as well. An employee is entitled to a break of 11 hours uninterrupted rest between the end of one shift and the start of the next and 48 hours uninterrupted rest in a two week period although this can be split into two 24 hour rest periods. An employee is also entitled to an unpaid break of at least 20 minutes away from their workstation if they work a shift of 6 hours or more.
There are some exceptions to the rules on breaks and in these circumstances if it is not possible for an employee to have breaks in accordance with the regulations then they will need to be given compensatory rest at some other time. The rules are also tighter for young workers.
Ellen’s Top Tips:
• There is a maximum 48 hour week on average unless the employee opts out.
• An employee who opts out can choose to opt back in.
• An employee cannot be penalised for refusing to opt out.
• Rest breaks are unpaid.
• Compensatory rest can be given if there is no other alternative.