Working Time Regulations Guide

Working time Limits

  • Workers cannot be forced to work for more than 48 hours a week on average.
  • Young Workers may not ordinarily work more than 8 hours a day or 40 hours a week, although there are certain permitted exceptions (please see Special daily and weekly working time limits).
  • Working time limits for doctors in training are being phased in gradually (please see Special daily and weekly working time limits)
  • Working time includes travelling where it is part of the job, working lunches and job-related training.
  • Working time does not include travelling between home and work, lunch breaks, evening classes or day-release courses.
  • The average weekly working time is normally calculated over 17 weeks. This can be longer in certain situations (26 weeks) and it can be extended by agreement (up to 52 weeks).
  • Workers can agree to work longer than the 48-hour limit. An agreement must be in writing and signed by the worker. This is generally referred to as an opt-out. It can be for a specified period or a indefinite period. There is no opt-out available from the Young Workers limits.
  • Workers can cancel the opt-out agreement whenever they want, although they must give their employer at least seven days’ notice, or longer (up to three months) if this has been agreed.
  • The working time limits do not apply if workers can decide how long they work.

Employers must check:

  • What counts as working time.
  • How much time each worker spends working.
  • If a worker is working more than an average of 48 hours a week, whether to reduce his or her hours or whether the worker wishes to sign an opt-out from the working time limit
  • What records need to be kept.

More detailed information

If you are an employer, you must take all reasonable steps to ensure that workers you employ are not required to work more than an average of 48 hours a week, unless they have signed an opt-out agreement.

Special daily and weekly working time limits

Young workers

Young workers may not ordinarily work more than:

  • 8 hours a day
  • 40 hours a week

These hours worked cannot be averaged out and there is no opt-out available.

They may work longer hours where this is necessary to either:

  • maintain continuity of service or production, or
  • respond to a surge in demand for a service or product

and provided that:

  • there is no adult available to perform the task
  • the training needs of the young worker are are not adversely affected

Young workers who are employed on ships or as part of the armed forces are excluded from the working time limits under the Working Time Regulations.

Doctors in training

From 1st August 2004, doctors in training will be subject to weekly working time limits, which will be phased in as follows:

  • 58 hours from 1st August 2004 to 31 July 2007
  • 56 hours from 1st August 2007 to 31 July 2009
  • 48 hours from 1st August 2009

Their average weekly working time is calculated using a 26-week reference period (see section How is the average weekly working time calculated? for information on how the average weekly working time is calculated).

What is ‘working time’?

The Working Time Regulations state that working time is when someone is "working, at his employer’s disposal and carrying out his activity or duties".

This includes:

  • Working lunches, such as business lunches.
  • When a worker has to travel as part of his or her work, for example a 24-hour mobile repairman or travelling salesman.
  • When a worker is undertaking training that is job-related
  • Time spent abroad working if a worker works for an employer who carries on business in Great Britain.

This does not include:

  • Routine travel between home and work.
  • Rest breaks when no work is done.
  • Time spent travelling outside normal working time.
  • Training such as non-job-related evening classes or day-release courses.

On 3rd October 2000 the European Court of Justice gave judgement in a case concerning the status of ‘on-call’ time.1 The judgement related to doctors employed in primary health care teams though a similar approach may now be taken in other areas. It indicated that ‘on-call’ time would be working time when a worker is required to be at his place of work. When a worker is permitted to be away from the workplace when ‘on-call’ and accordingly free to pursue leisure activities, on-call time is not ‘working time’.

How is the average weekly working time calculated?

The number of hours worked each week should be averaged out over 17 weeks or however long a worker has been working for their employer if this is less than 17 weeks. This period of time is called the ‘reference period’.

Workers and employers can agree to calculate the average weekly working time over a period of up to 52 weeks under a workforce or collective agreement. The reference period is also extended to 26 weeks in other circumstances.

  • Doctors in training have a 26-week reference period
  • The offshore sector has a 52-week reference period

The average weekly working time is calculated by dividing the number of hours worked by the number of weeks over which the average working week is being calculated, for example 17.

When calculating the average weekly working time, if the worker is away during the reference period because he or she is taking paid annual leave, maternity, paternity, adoption or parental leave, or is off sick you will need to make up for this time in your calculation. Do this by adding the hours worked during the days which immediately followed the 17-week period – use the same number of days as those when work was missed.

Example 1:

A worker has a standard working week of 40 hours and does overtime of 12 hours a week for the first 10 weeks of the 17-week reference period. No leave is taken during the reference period.

The total hours worked is:

17 weeks of 40 hours and 10 weeks of 12 hours of overtime

(17 x 40) + (10 x 12) = 800

Therefore their average (total hours divided by number of weeks):

800/17 = 47.1 hours a week

The average limit of 48 hours has been complied with.

 

Example 2:

A worker has a standard working week of 40 hours (8 hours a day) and does overtime of 8 hours a week for the first 12 weeks of the 17-week reference period. 4 days’ leave are also taken during the reference period.

The total hours worked in the reference period is:

16 weeks and 1 day (40 hours a week and 8 hours a day) and 12 weeks of 8 hours of overtime

(16 x 40) + (1 x 8) + (12 x 8) = 744

Add the time worked to compensate for the 4-day leave, taken from the first 4 working days after the reference period. The worker does no overtime, so 4 days of 8 hours (4 x 8 = 32 ) should be added to the total.

Therefore their average is (total hours divided by number of weeks):

(744 + 32) / 17 = 45.6 hours per week

The average limit of 48 hours has been complied with.

What if a worker agrees to work longer hours?

An individual worker may agree to work more than 48 hours a week. If so, he or she should sign an opt-out agreement, which they can cancel at any time. The employer and worker can agree how much notice is needed to cancel the agreement, which can be up to three months. In the absence of an agreed notice period, the worker needs to give a minimum of seven days’ notice of cancellation.

Employers cannot force a worker to sign an opt-out. Any opt-out must be agreed to. Workers cannot be fairly dismissed or subjected to detriment for refusing to sign an opt-out.

Employers must keep a record of who has agreed to work longer hours.

Example of opt-out agreement

I (name) agree that I may work for more than an average of 48 hours a week. If I change my mind, I will give my employer (amount of time – up to three months) notice in writing to end this agreement.

Signed…………………..

Dated……………………


1 Sindicato de Médicos de Asistencia Publics (SIMAP) – v – Conselleria de Sanidad y Consumo de la Generalidad Valenciana, Case C-303/98.

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