3 Jun 2024

What are the Working Time Regulations?

The Working Time Regulations came into force in October 1998. They determine the working hours of employees over a working week and give workers the legal right to paid leave and specified rest breaks. They ensure that employers take reasonable steps to protect the health and safety of their employees and maintain a safe and supportive environment by giving people equal and fair working conditions.

Working Time Regulations FAQs

What is the maximum number of hours people are allowed to work per week under working time regulations?

The legislation states that an adult employee must work no more than 48 hours a week over a reference period unless they opt out. Businesses usually average the reference period over 17 weeks. This means an employee can work a maximum of 48 hours one week as long as the average over 17 weeks is less than 48 hours a week.

Younger workers, i.e. those who are over the compulsory school leaving age and up to 18 years, are restricted to eight hours per day or 40 hours per week.

The Working Time Regulations also stipulate that employees are:

  • Not allowed to exceed an average of eight hours work in 24 hours (for night workers)
  • Entitled to 11 hours of rest between working days
  • Allowed a 20-minute minimum unpaid rest break (defined below) if the working day is longer than six hours
  • Entitled to 28 days paid time off for full-time workers per year (pro rata for part-time workers)
  • Permitted a minimum of one rest day off per week

The Working Time Regulations benefit you as an employer and your people. It can prevent employment tribunal cases by adhering to the maximum number of working hours–saving you money and stress. If you have a culture of long working hours with poor rest periods and breaks this may contribute towards higher risks of workplace ill health and accidents. Effectively managing working time for your employees is key to minimising risks as an employer.

That said, there are some exceptions to be aware of.

What are the specific regulations for night workers?

Night workers are not allowed to exceed an average of 8 hours of work in any 24-hour period.

What rest periods are employees entitled to?
  • Daily Rest: Employees must have at least 11 consecutive hours of rest between working days.
  • Breaks During Work: Employees are entitled to a minimum 20-minute unpaid rest break if the working day exceeds 6 hours.
  • Weekly Rest: Employees must have a minimum of one rest day off per week.
How much paid time off are full-time workers entitled to?

Full-time workers are entitled to 28 days of paid time off per year, with pro-rata adjustments for part-time workers.

What activities count as 'working time'?

'Working time' includes:

  • Job-related learning and development (on-site, off-site, or at home).
  • Travelling as part of the job (e.g., sales reps, news reporters).
  • Time treated as 'working time' under an employment contract.
  • Time spent travelling between home and work for those without a fixed work base.
  • Working lunches (e.g., business lunches).
  • Working abroad for business purposes.
  • Paid and employer-requested unpaid overtime.
What are the benefits of the Working Time Regulations for employers and employees?

The regulations help prevent employment tribunal cases and reduce workplace ill health and accidents by ensuring reasonable working hours and rest periods. This creates a healthier, safer, and more productive working environment.

Are there any exceptions to the Working Time Regulations?

Yes, certain groups are exempt, including:

  • Mobile transport staff (train drivers, seafarers, lorry drivers).
  • Jobs requiring 'continuity of service or production' (e.g., agricultural workers, prison officers).
  • Self-employed individuals and senior directors.
How are working hours managed for jobs requiring 'continuity of service or production'?

Employees working more than 6 hours are entitled to a minimum 20-minute unpaid rest break. Young workers are entitled to a minimum 30-minute unpaid rest break for every 6 hours worked.

How are working hours managed for jobs requiring 'continuity of service or production'?

Employers have more flexibility in implementing working time rights for these jobs. Workers may need to work during rest periods under specific circumstances, such as during seasonal peaks or urgent tasks. However, they must be allowed equivalent compensatory rest as soon as possible.

How many hours can you work without a break?

Employees working more than 6 hours are entitled to a minimum 20-minute unpaid rest break. Young workers are entitled to a minimum 30-minute unpaid rest break for every 6 hours worked.

What are the rest period entitlements for workers?
  • A daily rest period of 11 hours uninterrupted rest in every 24-hour period.
  • A weekly rest period of 24 hours uninterrupted rest in every seven-day period, or two uninterrupted 24-hour rests (or 48 hours) in every 14-day period.
Are there workers who have more flexible working time rights?

Yes, certain groups have working time rights, but employers have more flexibility in how they implement these rights. These groups include jobs requiring 'continuity of service or production,' such as:

  • Agricultural Workers.
  • Prison Officers.

Jobs that need 'continuity of service or production' are exempt from rest period regulations because their work cannot be interrupted for legitimate reasons.

How do seasonal peaks affect working time regulations for workers?

During seasonal peaks (e.g., lambing, calving, or harvest time), workers may need to work longer hours or extra shifts to meet demand. This is considered under 'special cases' in the legislation, giving employers more flexibility with rest breaks. Employers must ensure they do not breach obligations towards workers' rest breaks.

Can employers require workers to work during rest periods?

Yes, in limited circumstances defined as 'special cases,' employers can require certain workers to work during rest periods. These cases include: Activities needing continuity of service or production (e.g., agriculture). Foreseeable surges in activity (e.g., harvest time).

If a worker is required to work through their rest period, the employer must allow the worker to take an equivalent period of rest. This compensatory rest should be the same length as the interruption and taken as soon as possible, ideally immediately after the work.

Do working time regulations apply to self-employed people or senior directors?

No, the law on working hours and rest periods does not apply to self-employed individuals, senior directors, or similar positions who make strategic decisions. However, they should still ensure they get enough rest for their physical and mental wellbeing.

Are there different reference periods for certain job roles?

Yes, certain job roles have different reference periods: 

Trainee Doctors: 26-week reference period

Offshore Oil and Gas Workers: 52-week reference period.

Contact us on info@thehrbranch.co.uk or give us a call on 01522 275105 if you have any queries.