Employment Law – Working Time Regulations

Working hours in the UK are governed by the Working Time Regulations 1998. These limit the working week to an average of 48 hours (although there is an opt-out), and the working day to an average of 8 hours. They also give workers and employees the right to paid leave and specified rest breaks. The aims of the regulations are to provide better health and safety for workers and their jobs and workplace. Get Free Legal Advice UK.

Employees can decide to work longer if they want to by opting out of the Working Time Regulations. However, this must be their choice and not a demand by the employer. According to the regulations, workers cannot lawfully be required to work more than an average of 48 hours a week. The Working Time Regulations 1998 also give workers the right to a minimum daily rest period between each working day or shift, and to a minimum weekly rest period. Let’s look at this in more detail.

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What Are Working Time Regulations ?

The working time regulations determine the hours most workers can work. The regulations also determine the following points:

  • It puts limits on the average working week
  • States the statutory entitlement for paid leave for the majority of workers
  • Outlines health and welfare assessments for employees
  • Limits on the number of hours worked by night workers 
  • Provides special provisions for young workers.
  • It covers agency, freelance workers and part-time workers

48 hours per week is the maximum average (over 17 weeks) are regulated to work; this is referred to as the working time directive or working time regulations.

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What Rest Periods Am I Entitled To?

An adult worker is entitled to an uninterrupted rest period of no less than 24 hours in each seven day period.This is in addition to the daily rest period, but the two can overlap. An employer can dictate that this consists of two 24 hour rest periods in a 14 day period, or one 48 hour rest period in a 14 day period. 

Again, an employer can modify this in special cases or if there is a collective agreement as long as they provide compensatory rest, if possible, within two months. Days off are an addition to paid annual leave. Employers must make sure that workers can take their rest periods.

Determining Work Hours

Calculating working hours is important. Understanding what is considered “work” is equally as important. Working hours include:

  • Job-related training
  • Work-related travel
  • Business lunches and meetings
  • Paid or unpaid overtime
  • Time spent on a call Time when in the workplace
  • Any activity contracted and attributed to working time 
  • Any contractual activity referred to ‘working time’.

The working time regulations also generally provide employees with the following rights:

  • 28 days paid leave per annum and an additional “1.6 weeks” (including bank holidays and public holidays)
  • 11 hours’ consecutive rest in every 24 hour period
  • Working days of at least 6 hours require a 20 minute rest period.
  • A minimum of 1 day off each week
  • An average of 8 hours’ night work in any 24 hour period

These are minimum standards. Anybody’s individual contract or collective agreement through a trade union may improve upon. The Regulations apply to all workers, not just employees.

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Can The Regulations Be Modified?

Collective/workplace agreements can modify provisions on: 

  • daily and weekly rest breaks, 
  • maximum weekly working hours and 
  • night work


  • Determining additional working time. 
  • Determining night work. 
  • Setting dates for calculating reference periods. 
  • Identifying hazards. 
  • Deciding details of rest breaks, daily rest and weekly rest. 
  • Setting the start date of the leave year. 
  • Deciding the payment due for leave not taken on termination. 
  • Establishing repayment for excess leave taken. 
  • Varying annual leave notice requirements.

Calculating Working Hours

The average weekly working hours calculated over a period of 17 weeks. Workers can work any number of hours provided over the 17 week period the average number of hours is 48 or less. Workers under the age of 18 can only work a maximum of 40 hours per week.

Averaging the working hours over a 17 week period does not apply to all jobs however.  For example, trainee doctors will average their working hours over a 26 week period; someone working offshore on an oil or gas rig will average their working hours over a 52 week period.

If someone has more than one job. the combined average hours should not be more than 48 hours. In order to work more than that regulated 48 hours a worker must sign an-opt out agreement. The health and safety executive and local authorities monitor and enforce working time regulations.

Paid Holidays

Regulations 13 and 13A create a right to paid annual leave of 28 days, expressed as “four weeks” and an additional “1.6 weeks” (including bank holidays and public holidays). In the Working Time Directive, article 7 refers to paid annual leave of “at least four weeks”, but does not directly define a “week”, and nor do the regulations. 

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Working Time Exceptions

Some jobs can require longer  working hours than the regulated 48 hours a week.

These include:

  • Jobs that require 24 hours staffing
  • Security and surveillance roles
  • Armed forces, police and emergency services
  • Private household domestic worker or carer
  • Seafarers, sea fishermen, workers on vessels on inland waterways
  • When the worker is in control of decisions, such as a Chief Executive, working time is not measured.

Opting out of Working Time Regulations

Workers over the age of 18 can choose to opt out of the working Time regulations agreement. Employers can ask an employee to opt out but cannot force them to. Employers cannot seek retribution if an employee chooses to opt out of the working Time regulations.

Employees may opt out for an indefinite or a temporary period of time. The opt out must be in writing.

Jobs that are exempt from opting out includes:

  • Airline staff,
  • Ship workers,
  • Travel staff who operate vehicles
  • Certain delivery drivers
  • Security guards who work on vehicles carrying high-value goods.

Workers can cancel their opt outs at any time even if it is part of the employment contract. However,  they must give at least 7 days notice to their employer. This may be extended up to 3 months.

An employer cannot force an employee to cancel their opt-out. Any decisions regarding this must be on a voluntary basis.

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Breach of Working Time Regulations

In the event of a breach of regulations, employees should raise a grievance with their employer via their union representative. They can ask for it to be rectified immediately. If the employer refuses then the worker can bring a claim to an Employment Tribunal. Employees may also bring a claim for unfair dismissal when a dismissal occurs due to  the fact they have complained about the employer.

Employers found to be breaching the regulations face potential fines or imprisonment if previous warnings and notices are ignored or unaddressed.

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