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Working time

Overview
Employees are entitled to time off work in a variety of situations. The Working Time Regulations 1998 outline requirements in respect of hours of work, rest breaks, night working and annual holiday entitlement.

Key points

  • The Working Time Regulations (WTR) grant rights to workers from day one of employment.
  • There are, however, a range of flexibilities, derogations and exclusions, which can either modify the application of these rights or in some circumstances exclude them altogether.
  • The WTR apply to young workers, defined as those who are under age 18, but have reached the age of 15 and are above compulsory school age, but the Regulations do not apply to school children.
  • Under the WTR, a worker's working time, including overtime, in any reference period should not exceed an average of 48 hours for each seven days.
  • In the case of young workers, their working time must not exceed eight hours a day or 40 hours a week.
  • An employer is under a duty to take all reasonable steps to ensure that the 48-hour average weekly working time limit is not being exceeded.
  • An adult worker can opt out of the 48-hour maximum working week, but the agreement to opt out must be in writing and must be agreed by both parties.
  • A night worker is defined as someone who, as a normal course, works at least three hours of his or her daily working time during night time, or is likely to work during night time for such proportion of his or her working time as may be specified in a collective or workforce agreement.
  • Employers are under a duty to ensure that, in principle, young workers do not work at all during restricted periods.
  • Adult workers are entitled to a minimum rest period of 11 consecutive hours in each 24-hour period.
  • Adult workers are entitled to a minimum uninterrupted 20-minute rest break during the working day if it is more than six hours, and are entitled in principle to spend this break away from their workstation.
  • Workers covered by the Working Time Regulations are entitled to 5.6 weeks’ paid holiday leave each year.

Recent developments

ECJ rules employers should record all working hours

In Federación de Servicios de Comisiones Obreras v Deutsche Bank SAE,  the ECJ had ruled that EU member states should require employers to have an objective, reliable and accessible system that records all working hours worked by each worker. This is to ensure working time rights are being met and this can be proven to the relevant body if necessary.

This decision is contrary to current laws which, under the Working Time Regulations 1998, require organisations to keep and maintain ‘adequate’ records that demonstrate compliance with the 48-hour average working week and night work. There is currently no legal requirement to keep records in relation to rest breaks and rest periods, although it remains to be seen whether the government amends the Regulations to comply with this decision.

More details of this decision can be found in our news article.

Extension of time off for for public duties

From 1 October 2018, the right for employees to request time off for work to carry out their public duties has been extended to volunteers who carry out monitoring of custody conditions in prisons. For more information, see our in-depth section on 'Public duties'.

Government response to Matthew Taylor review

During 2017, Matthew Taylor published a review which, amongst other things, suggested that rights to payment for online platform workers should be based on output. The government stated they would respond to the review by the end of 2017, although this was delayed to the beginning of 2018.

The government has now released their response to the Taylor report and have announced a consultation on how to determine 'working time' when individuals are working through platforms such as mobile apps.