Working Time Regulations

Working time law is based on the following legislation:

  • The European Working Time Directive 93/104EC
  • The European Young Workers Directive 93/33EC
  • The European Young Workers Directive 94/33EC
  • The UK Working Time Regulations 1998 and 1999
  • The Working Time (Amendment) Regulations 2003

The Working Time Regulations implement the European Working Time Directive and parts of the Young Workers Directive in the UK. The 2003 amendment extends existing rights to groups of works who were previously excluded, e.g. junior doctors.

Article 18 of the Working Time Directive allows member states to permit individual workers to opt-out of the 48-hour weekly limit on their working hours.

The UK remains the only European country that allows individual workers to use the provision. This arrangement is currently under review. PCS and the TUC are lobbying to have this opt-out removed.

The Working Time Directive is a health and safety law and seeks to ensure that workers get sufficient rest to enable them to carry out their duties safely when they are at work and protect their long-term health.

The limits therefore apply to the total hours that an individual works, regardless of how many jobs they do. An employer is required to record the hours undertaken by an employee, but the worker also has a responsibility for his or her own health and safety.

Working Time rights apply differently depending on the type of worker and the type of work, and can be varied by agreements between employers and groups of workers or individuals. This fact sheet outlines the main provisions.

Am I covered?

The Working Time Regulations apply to full-time, part-time, agency and casual workers and home workers, from the day they begin work.

They do not apply to workers who are genuinely self-employed, work in certain specified sectors or “autonomous workers” who can choose when to work.

You may not be covered by all the provision if you are in a job:

  • Requiring a permanent presence or continuity of service such as security or care services;
  • Where there are foreseeable surges of activity such as tourism or postal services;
  • Where you work in several distant locations or away from home;
  • Organised in shifts at the time the shift pattern changes, or:
  • In exceptional unforeseen circumstances that are outside your employer’s control and could not have been planned for.
  • In these situations your employer should allow you to take an equivalent period of compensatory rest when the reason for working extra hours has passed.

What is “working time”?

Working time is defined as periods when you are working at your employer’s disposal and carrying out your employer’s activities or duties.

For example, it includes training at the workplace, time travelling to visit clients, a working lunch; it does not include travel to work or time taken to travel to an occasional meeting away from your normal workplace.

There have been a number of legal cases concerning “on-call” time. The general principle is that as soon as a call is received, the working time clock starts ticking and continues until the work activity has been completed.

Working time is not limited to contractual hours - paid or unpaid overtime also counts towards the total.

Working time basics

  • A 48 hour week
  • A rest break during the working day
  • 11 hours rest every day
  • 24 hours rest every week
  • Special rules for young workers
  • Special rules for night workers

Basic rights for adult workers

A 48-hour week

The employer has a duty to ensure that working time does not exceed 48 hours per week on average unless proper procedures are followed.

The average is calculated over a 17-week period, but this period can be varied to 26 or 52 weeks under certain circumstances. Days when are off sick or on annual leave do not count.

Rest breaks

Workers are entitled to a rest break of 20 minutes if working six hours or more. This should be an uninterrupted period and be taken during your working hours, not at the beginning or end.

Daily rest

There should be a rest period of at least 11 consecutive hours in any 24-hour period.

Weekly rest

In addition to the daily rest period, there should be a further uninterrupted rest period of at least 24 hours in any seven-day period. This can be combined to form a 48-hour rest period in a 14-day period.

Annual leave

Under the Working Time Regulations, annual leave allowances include time off for bank and public holidays – or time taken in lieu for such periods.

From 1st October, 2007, holiday entitlement for workers doing a 5 day week is 4.8 weeks and this will increase to 5.6 weeks from 1st April 2009. Those working less than 5 days a week would have their allowance calculated on a pro-rata basis.

At least 4 weeks of any leave entitlement (or the pro-rata equivalent) must be taken within the leave year for which it is awarded. Beyond that, employers may agree to allow workers to carry over additional holiday to the following leave year. These arrangements will usually be stated in your terms and conditions of employment. At present employers can also offer to pay employees for any leave above 4 weeks that is not taken within a holiday year but this option will end when the holiday entitlement increases in April 2009. After this date, employers would only be able to pay workers for untaken holiday if it exceeds the 5.6 weeks statutory entitlement. You can still be paid for any untaken holiday entitlement if you leave your job.

Leave accrues proportionately throughout the year on a monthly basis. If you work less than a full year, your entitlement will be worked out proportionately.

Workers need to give twice as much notice when applying for leave as the length of the leave – so you need to ask two weeks in advance for a week off. Employers can refuse to grant leave, but must give you the same notice of refusal as the length of leave requested – so they would have to tell you a week before where you request a week’s leave.

Employers are able to direct when all or part of your holiday entitlement may be taken.

Further info:

Night workers

If you regularly work at least three hours of your working day between 11pm and 6am you are considered a night worker.

Night workers should not work more than an average of 8 hours in every 24. If the work involves “special hazards or physical or mental strain”, the 8-hour limit applies to each 24-hour period and is not averaged over a reference period.

Night workers are also entitled to a free health assessment before being assigned to night work, with regular health assessments thereafter. If your health suffers because of the night work you should be moved back to daytime working.

Young workers

Slightly different rules apply to young workers – that is those between school-leaving age and 18.

The weekly limit is 40 hours, with a limit of 8 hours a day. This is not averaged over a reference period and there is no opt out provision. Young workers are entitled to a rest period of 12 hours each day, 48 hours in each seven-day period and a 30 minute break for shifts of more than four-and-a-half hours.

They must not ordinarily work between 10pm and 6am, or between 11pm and 7am if their contract provides for work after 10pm.

Opt-out provisions

You can reach an agreement with your employer collectively or individually to opt out of certain provisions.

Opt-outs of the 48-hour per week limit must be agreed individually and be in writing. You must be able to reverse the opt-out if you wish. You cannot opt out of entitlements to paid annual leave.

Do you have a better agreement?

PCS members generally enjoy better contractual rights and agreements than the statutory entitlements.

PCS is currently seeking a standard 35 hour week and 30 days annual leave on entry for all staff, as well as encouraging employers to consider greater flexibility in when contracted hours may be worked.

PCS members who are managers are sometimes affected by the “autonomous worker” provisions – PCS is campaigning to ensure that all work beyond contractual hours is recognised for overtime payments.

Other family friendly rights

Adoption leave

Adoption leave is the right for one parent to take paid time off work when their new child is placed with them.

Maternity leave

Maternity leave allows a new mother to take a period of leave when she has a baby.

Parental leave

Parental leave is a right for parents of a young or adopted or disabled child to take a period of unpaid leave to care for them.

Paternity leave

Paternity leave is the right for a new father or partner of a new mother or adopter to take time off at the time of the birth or adoption.

Time off for dependants

Time off for dependants is a right to take a reasonable period of time off (usually a few days) to deal with an emergency involving a dependant.

These are your statutory rights. Your employer may have agreed better contractual rights, so check with your PCS rep or branch secretary. PCS produces factsheets on all these subjects.

Hard copies of this publication are available from PCS equality department.

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