Working Time Regulations

By April Harrington.
03 Dec 2019

The Working Time Regulations 1998, sometimes known as the ‘working time directive’ or just ‘working time regulations’ is the leading piece of legislation that determines your employees’ working hours.

It dictates a lot of the rules and regulations concerning periods of work for your employees. This makes it vital to understand.

Failure to comply with these regulations can seriously harm your reputation and lead to costly employment tribunals.

In this article we’ll take a look at what they are, what they say, and how they impact your workplace.

What are the Working Time Regulations?

At its core, the regulations are quite simple. They state that no individual should work for more than 48 hours a week on average. Businesses usually average this over 17 weeks. These regulations are in addition to risk assessments in your workplace to guarantee a safe working environment.

The basic provisions of the Working Time Regulations state that employees are:

  • Required to work an average of / no more than 48 hours a week, unless they specifically opt-out.
  • Entitled to 5.6 weeks' paid time off per year.
  • Allowed 1 consecutive hours' rest per 24-hour period.
  • Entitled to a 20-minute rest break (for working days longer than six hours).
  • Meant to have 11 hours of rest between working days.
  • Given a minimum of one day off per week.
  • Not allowed to work over eight hours - for night shifts - in any 24-hour period.
  • Restricted to 8-hours per day and 40-hours per week if they are aged 16-18.

As with most laws however, there are exceptions, exemptions, and further elements to consider. Let’s take a look at these next…

Working Time Regulations – opt out

First of all, employees may opt out of the 48-hour week. This means they can work a greater number of hours. However, they must still have adequate breaks.

The most important thing to note when opting out of the 48-hour week is getting employee consent. You cannot force employees to opt out. You cannot terminate an employee’s contract if they refuse to opt out.

Aside from this, there are some roles that are exempt from the 48-hour working week. These include:

  • Places of work where 24-hour staffing is required
  • Armed forces, emergency services or police
  • Security or surveillance
  • Domestic servant in private household
  • Seafarers, fisherman or workers on vessels on inland waterways
  • Where working time isn’t measured and you are in control (you control when you work)

If you’re unsure whether a role is an exception to the working time regulations, don’t wait until after you’ve hired the employee to seek advice. Speak to one of our experts today on 01455 858 132.

Penalties for breach of Working Time Regulations

If you fail to adhere to the regulations, or force an employee to opt out, there are serious consequences.

An initial breach of the working time regulations can lead to an improvement notice being issued. This will usually be your first and final warning. If you don’t address the situation, you can receive unlimited fines and imprisonment.

If the case involves an unfair dismissal, a tribunal could order you to pay compensation payments to the employee.

Working Time Regulations – breaks

Employment law on the working time regulations divides working breaks into three categories:

  1. Rest breaks at work
  2. Daily rest
  3. Weekly rest

All three are legal employee entitlements. Here’s what they mean:

Rest breaks at work

Individuals have the right to a minimum of one uninterrupted 20-minute rest break during their working day. You don’t have to pay the employee for this break. Whatever your break policy is, you should outline it in your employment contracts.

This rest period is for 8-hour shifts. If the employee works less than six hours, then they don’t need to have a break.

Daily rest working time regulations

Individuals have the right to 11 hours rest between working days. This would work as follows:

A worker finishes work at 8pm on a Wednesday. This means they shouldn’t start work again until at least 7am on Thursday.

Weekly rest working time regulations

There are two different types of weekly rest set out by the working time regulations. Individuals have the right to either:

  • An uninterrupted 24 hours without any work each week
  • An uninterrupted 48 hours without any work each fortnight

Again, whatever your policy, you should outline it in your employees’ contracts.

Working Time Regulations – annual leave

The law states that you must give everyone who works for you paid annual leave. The minimum entitlement for annual leave is 5.6 weeks a year. But of course, annual leave isn’t as simple as that.

Here, we’ll look at what is allowable under the working time regulations, and what isn’t.

First, there is no automatic entitlement to extra days off for bank holidays. Workers can take leave from the first day of their employment. Part-time workers have similar entitlements. Typically, you calculate part-time workers entitlement pro rata.

You also have some control over the timing of employees’ holidays. For example, you can require them to not take holidays at a certain time in the year. You can also specify how much notice they need to give to book annual leave.

The final point you must address is holiday pay. We’ll look at this in our next section…

Working Time Regulations – holiday pay

You should always pay employees the same rate for annual leave as their normal pay. Luckily, this means you don’t need to figure out a working time regulations specific holiday pay calculation.

Of course, your worker might not work normal hours, or their normal rate of pay may vary. In this case, you should calculate their holiday pay using the average pay they received in the previous 52 weeks of employment.

We’ll look a little bit closer at how the regulations impact these different types of working pattern next…

Working Time Regulations – shift types

Before we look at different shift types, let’s look at part-time workers in general. This is someone who works fewer hours than a full-time worker.

Unfortunately, when it comes to part-time working regulations in the UK, there is no legal definition of what makes someone a full-time worker.

Typically, someone working full time hours will be working 35 hours or more a week—this tends to be the benchmark most employers use.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember when dealing with part-time workers, is that you can’t treat them any different from full-time employees. That is, unless there is a good reason to do so. This is known as ‘objective justification’. These reasons can even be cost based.

If you’re unsure whether your treatment amounts to objective justification, speak to one of our advisers on 01455 858 132.

When considering split shifts and the working time regulations, you need to remember the three break types. You have flexibility to move, shorten, and lengthen shifts. However, you must provide employees with their daily and weekly rest entitlements. Failing to do this will constitute a breach and you may suffer penalties.

If your employees have opted out of the 48 hour working week, then you still need to exercise caution. You have a duty of care for your employees. Part of that responsibility includes providing them with adequate rest.

Working Time Regulations – on call

One last important point to consider—employees working on call. Why does this matter?

Well, under the working time regulations in the UK, on call working may count towards overall working hours. If it does, then it will impact on a number of areas, including:

So how do you know if an individual on call is using working hours? We usually separate on-call working  into two different categories:

  1. Those who have to be at their normal workplace, or on-site, during the length of the on call shift
  2. Those who are free to do whatever they want but must work when told to do so

If the worker falls into the first category, then you must count this as working hours. If they fall into the second, then you don’t have to count this as working hours.

There is a variation of the second category that is set with restrictions. These restrictions can include things such as being able to attend the workplace within a certain time period or only be a certain distance away from the work site.

In these circumstances, it’s more likely you must count those hours as working. The more restrictions you have in place, the more likely this is.

Expert support

As with all employment law and HR issues, be sure to seek expert advice if you’re uncertain. Croner will take your call 24/7 hours a day, 365 days a year. Speak to our team today on 01455 858 132.

About the Author

April Harrington.

An experienced Senior Employment Law Consultant, who has worked for the group for over 9 years. April specialises in discrimination legislation. April has an extensive background in training, as well as recruitment and hospitality.

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