Workaholic? Time to listen up. Working Time Regulations came into force in 1998. Unfortunately, the regulations are complicated and, while they do give employees rights to basic entitlements including holiday pay and time off, they don't necessarily apply to everyone and can be opted out of by various contractual agreements.
The most common questions about working hours and entitlements are answered below.
OK, so what is a 'working week'?
According to the regulations, the average working week should not exceed 48 hours. This is a guideline average and not a limit. Every employee is entitled to a 20-minute break in a six-hour working day and a rest period of eleven hours in every twenty-four, as well as the right to one day off every weekend and four weeks of paid leave per annum. Leave is paid pro rata for part-time workers. So don't take your nice long client lunch for granted.
'Working time’, not sure what you mean?
Working time is the time spent at a workplace carrying out the duties specified in your contract of employment, as well as any time spent travelling to clients, conducting meetings on site and any training you are required to undertake.
As nice as it would be, time spent travelling to and from your place of work is not counted as working time, nor is time you spend on call but not necessarily working (so working from home keeping an eye on servers and load balancers might not count) or time spent travelling to meetings away from your normal place of work.
Is everyone covered?
No. Working Time Regulations don’t apply to you if you’re self-employed, running your own business or working freelance for various different clients or customers. Sorry.
Workers in some sector-specific roles are also not subject to the regulations because they're covered by other provisions, for example, cabin crew.
Workers in the Armed Forces, the police and other emergency services are also outside the scope of these regulations in certain circumstances.
What if I work night shifts?
If you work nights, the regulations covering you are slightly different. On average, you’re limited to working eight hours in every twenty-four and if your work is hazardous or involves physical or mental strain you shouldn’t exceed eight hours of working time at all. Note: calculating clock speeds or creating complex boolean string queries does not count as mental strain!
If working in any of these conditions is found to be affecting your health in any way, your employer must transfer you to a suitable alternative.
What if I want to work longer hours?
You can waive your rights to the standard Working Time Regulations, but you must do this in writing which can either be for a pre-defined period or if you wish, waived indefinitely. Your employer can agree with you to waive or modify all rights under the regulations, with the exception of annual leave and you must have the opportunity to opt back in to the regulations should you wish to do so. Basically, the ball's in your court.
While annual leave entitlement can't be restricted or modified, your employer can restrict the times you are allowed to take this leave, as well as the amount of annual leave you take at any one time and the amount of notice you’re required to give in order to take such leave.
If you plan to go backpacking around Peru for a few weeks over Christmas, you might want to check in advance if this is allowed.
Can my employer sack me or take any other action if I refuse to opt out?
No. Your employer can't force you to opt out, nor can they dismiss you for refusing to do so. It is illegal for an employer to dismiss you on such grounds or to cause you other detriment – for example denying you a pay rise or promotion.
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Disclaimer: the information on these pages is provided for your information and reference only. Before making any important decisions regarding your employment or any legal matter, you should consult a qualified professional adviser who can provide specific advice based on your individual position.