Working time requirements

The minimum standards for working hours, rests and holidays are set out in the Working Regulations. 

It is important to note from the outset that some particular occupations are exempt from the Regulations, the Regulations have limited application to workers in certain sectors and they also differ for night and young workers.  In addition to this, provided it is properly done, some individuals, groups or even a whole workforce can agree to opt-out of certain parts of the Regulations.

Generally, workers cannot be made to work more than an average of 48 hours over a seven day period. Young workers are restricted to a maximum 40-hour week and a maximum 8-hour day, without averaging.

The 48 hour limit applies to all work, and not just that with a single employer.  Therefore working time from second jobs with a different employer is also included.  This ‘working time’ includes the time in which a worker is working, training, travelling during and, in certain circumstances, travelling to and from work.  The average is normally (but not always) calculated over a 17-week rolling period.  Different days and reference periods can, however, apply depending on the circumstances.

Whilst young workers are not permitted to opt-out of these maximum hours, adult workers can opt-out by individual agreement.  This can be for either a set or indefinite period.  A worker cannot be forced to opt out, and no action should be taken against them if they refuse.  If they want to, a worker can opt back in with seven days’ notice, although this notice period can be extended for up to three months by agreement.

Generally, the following rest breaks apply to workers

  • A break for 20 minutes uninterrupted rest when working time exceeds six hours.  For young workers, it is 30 minutes if the daily working time exceeds four-and-a-half hours.
  • A daily rest of at least 11 consecutive hours in each 24-hour period. For young workers it is 12 hours.
  • A weekly rest of at least 24 consecutive hours in a seven-day, or 48 consecutive hours in a 14-day, reference period.  Young workers should usually have a 48-hour rest period in each seven day reference period.

In certain circumstances, it is possible to allow workers to have other rest periods to compensate them for being unable to take the rest when they should have.  This is known as compensatory rest.

No action should be taken against workers for taking, or attempting to take, their entitlement to rest breaks or daily or weekly rests.

Understandably, not all employers known how best to navigate around the Regulations for maximum benefit.  Please feel free to contact our team for advice on how we can help you.

The information contained within this page is for guidance only and is not to be relied upon as legal advice.  If you require specific legal advice, please contact our team for support.