Working Time Regulations: An Overview

Before the introduction of the Working Time Regulations in 1998, hours of work were mainly unregulated. The Working Time Regulations were introduced to provide regulation, limit the number of hours that individuals may work in a week and gives information on rest breaks and holidays. It also contains special regulations for young workers.

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Specifically, the regulations limit the average working week to 48 hours, ensure that workers have enough breaks and that they have enough rest periods in-between working.

The regulations also stipulate that workers be entitled to 5.6 weeks (or 28 days) of paid annual leave per year. An employer can decide to include bank holidays in this entitlement if they wish to.

Who Is Covered By The Regulations?

The regulations protect workers, which includes:

  • All those working under a contract of employment, both part-time and full-time workers;
  • Temporary workers and freelancers; and
  • Agency workers will be treated as workers for the purpose of the regulations.

Who Is Not Covered By The Regulations?

The regulations do not apply to the self-employed they also do not apply to:

  • Those who work offshore;
  • Junior doctors;
  • Domestic staff in private households;
  • Those in the armed forces, emergency services and the police;
  • Young workers.

What Is And Is Not Classed As ‘Working Time’?

Under the regulations, working time is defined as any period during which the individual is:

  • Working;
  • Carrying out their duties;
  • Available and at the employer’s disposal.

For the period in question to be classed as working time, all three criterion must be met. Working time can also include any period during which an individual is receiving relevant training and other additional periods which have been permitted in an agreement to be classed as working time. Working time will also include overtime, time spent on call at the workplace, and travel time, where travelling is part of the job.

Some activities will generally not be classed as working time, such as rest breaks, annual leave, working from home voluntarily or time spent on call if they not required to be at a particular place.

The 48 Hour Week And Opting Out

Under the regulations, workers have the right not to work more than an average of 48 hours per week. However, if an employee is 18 or over, they can opt out of the 48-hour working week if they choose to do so. As an employer, you can ask employees to opt-out of the 48-hour working week. However, you cannot treat them unfairly for doing so.

Young workers (those aged 16-17) generally cannot opt out, as they are not permitted to work more than 40 hours per week.

If an employee does opt out, then their consent must be obtained in writing. An employee can cancel their opt-out agreement at any time if they wish to, as long as they give their employer at least 7 days’ notice of their intention to do so.

Breaks And Rest Periods 

During the working day, a worker will be entitled to a 20-minute uninterrupted rest break if they work more than 6 hours. For young workers, they must have a 30-minute break if they work for more than 4 ½ hours.

Employers must also ensure that workers get the requisite amount of rest periods as prescribed in the regulations. Workers are entitled to 11 hours of uninterrupted rest in each 24 hour period. Exemptions from the regulations may be made for shift workers, but only by agreement. However, if this is the case, compensatory rest must be provided.

Compensatory rest is given when a worker has had to work through their normal rest period. The worker will be entitled to take their rest break at a later period, ideally on the same day if possible.

The Regulations recommend that as long as a worker receives on average 90 hours rest per week, then the necessary rest obligations are being met. The compensatory rest period should be for the same length of time as the interrupted portion of rest.

Employers should always be aware of the hours their employees are working, and ensure that all workers are given breaks when necessary and receiving adequate rest periods. Failure to comply with the regulations could lead to problems with the Health and Safety Executive, or lead to employees submitting a claim for breach of the regulations.

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