In a Nutshell: Working Time – What Employers Should Know

Some of our clients have seasonal peaks, particularly through the summer months. So their employees are clear from their contracts of employment about the need to work longer hours through these peak periods. However, employers also need to consider the impact of working long hours on their employees’ home life, and they must also be aware of the Working Time Regulations that sets legal limits on working hours, defines rest breaks and also rights to paid leave.

So in a nutshell, these are the key points from the Regulations:

• The Regulations apply to all workers, and there are special rules for younger workers – see section below.
• There is a limit of an average 48 hours a week on working hours (over a 17 week reference period).
• Individuals may choose to work longer by “opting out” (but should not be under any obligation to). They should sign a written agreement to be kept on file, and can opt back in again by giving notice.
• There should be at least 11 consecutive hours’ rest in any 24-hour period.
• Where the working day is longer than six hours, a 20 minute rest break should be provided. This does not have to be a paid break. Employees should be encouraged to leave their workstation and have a complete rest from working.
• There should be at least one day off per week. This can be averaged over a two week period, so an employee could have less than 24 hours’ rest one week, as long as the average over two weeks is at least 24 hours.
• There is also a limit on the normal working hours of night workers to an average eight hours in any 24-hour period, and an entitlement for night workers to receive regular health assessments.
• There is an entitlement to at least 5.6 weeks’ paid leave per year (pro-rata for part-time employees).

Younger workers’ special rules (under 18)
• There is a limit on their working hours to 8 hours per day and 40 hours per week.
• There should be a rest break of at least 30 minutes where their work lasts more than 4.5 hours.
• There is an entitlement to 2 days off each week.
• Ensure your contracts and policies reflect these entitlements. Contracts should clearly state hours of work, what flexibility and additional hours are required, and whether there is any additional pay or time off in lieu applicable. Holiday entitlement should be clearly outlined and be at least the statutory minimum of 5.6 weeks (28 days), which can be inclusive of public holidays.
• If you decide you need to make changes to your employees’ working hours to accommodate business requirements, use a consultative approach and explain the reasons for needing to change. It is advisable to seek professional HR advice.
• Where your employees work long hours for periods, keep a record of the hours to check they do not exceed the average 48 hours over a 17 week period.
• Employees should not be obligated to sign an opt out, but if they do, keep a copy on file and ensure employees are aware that they can end this agreement by giving notice.
• Encourage your employees to take their breaks, though you don’t have to police this.
• Be mindful of younger workers and their special rules.