The Working Time Regulations set out how much people are allowed to work on average.
According to the government website, gov.uk:
‘You can’t work more than 48 hours a week on average – normally averaged over 17 weeks.’
However, there are some exceptions to this, and employees can opt-out.
In this article, we will look at what those exceptions are, what activities count towards working time, and how your employees can opt-out.
Working Time Regulations
This is sometimes called the Working Time Directive. They set out the maximum number of hours anyone can work. They also cover rest breaks and holiday accrual.
Under 18s cannot work longer than 40 hours each week, or 8 hours in a day. Have a look at our article here on employing children for more information.
Adult employees should not usually work more than 48 hours per week on average. Sometimes, staff will need to work more than 48 hours in a week, which is ok as long as it averages out to no more than 48.
The weekly average should be calculated over 17 weeks. If your staff are working more than 48 hours a week on average, you will either need to ask them to opt out of the Working Time Regulations or change their rota to enable them to work fewer hours.
Employees are entitled to an uninterrupted 20-minute break if they work more than 6 hours a day. This should be taken away from their desk or workstation and not happen at the beginning or end of the day. This break can be unpaid.
Employees should get 11 hours of uninterrupted rest between working shifts, too. Sometimes this isn’t always possible, say, for example, there is an emergency at work. In this scenario, you must take steps to ensure the employee has the opportunity for enough rest.
Shift working can be challenging to make sure people get the correct rest periods. Employers of shift workers must make sure their staff get compensatory rest.
The Working Time Regulations have many elements to them. It is recommended you seek professional advice. Acas has some further reading that may be of use here.
What Counts Towards Working Hours?
When you are adding up the number of hours your staff have worked over the week you need to be aware of what you can and can’t include.
For example, travelling from home to their normal place of work isn’t included, but travelling to a satellite office or another location is if they don’t have a fixed working location.
Included in your staff’s working hours could be:
- Work-related training
- Time spent travelling as part of the job (for example between sites or to meetings)
- Working lunches
- Time spent working abroad
- Paid or unpaid overtime you have asked your staff to do
- Travel to and from work if there is no fixed workplace
- Being on call in the workplace
Activity that is not included in weekly working hours might be:
- Time on call away from the workplace, for example, at home
- Lunch breaks
- Travel outside normal working hours
- Voluntarily working overtime without extra pay, for example staying late to finish something
- Travel to and from a fixed place of work
It is best to seek professional advice if your working circumstances are anything other than straightforward.
What Jobs Are Exempt From Working Hours Regulations?
Some jobs have some variations to Working Hours Regulations. These are:
- Jobs where 24 hour staffing is required
- The armed forces, police, or emergency services
- Security and surveillance jobs
- People working at sea or inland waterways
- Shift workers
There are also some jobs that are not covered by the Working Time Regulations at all:
- Where your working time is not measured and you are in control, for example, a managing director or a self-employed person
- Domestic servants working in private households
And there are some jobs that have their own regulations, such as mobile air transport jobs, driving jobs, and seafaring work.
It is worth seeking professional HR advice to help you navigate the different types of roles and the regulations that apply. We would be happy to consult with you.
If your staff are over 18, you can ask them to opt-out of the Working Time Regulations, either for a fixed period or indefinitely. However, this must be voluntary and in writing.
Your employee has a right to cancel their opt-out agreement. They must give the notice written in their employment contract but if the contract says nothing about it, then they must give at least 7 days’ notice.
Some roles cannot opt-out. These are:
- Airline staff
- Drivers, especially those operating vehicles over 3.5 tonnes or bus drivers, for example
- Security guards covering the movement of high-value goods
- Ship and boat workers
Ready For Professional HR Advice?
If you are ready for some HR advice you can trust on how many hours your staff can work, get in touch.
We help businesses of all sizes remain compliant, treat their staff fairly, and prevent any potential issues down the line. We either work on one off projects or on a retainer basis. It is up to you!