Working Time Regulations: The Definitive Guide

Craig Hynd |


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The law around working time can be confusing. Some employers fail to understand the current legislation and others simply ignore it.

Our guide gives you everything you need to know about Working Time Regulations and holiday pay.

What are the Working Time Regulations?

The Working Time Regulations are the UK laws that govern working hours. These regulations stem from the EU Working Time Directive.

The regulations apply to all workers, and aren't limited to employees of companies. They set out the rules about minimum rest breaks, daily rest, weekly rest, and the maximum average working week.

The Working Time Regulations exist to improve the health and safety of workers by setting limits (such as weekly hours limits and night working limits), as well as defining workers’ rights to breaks, rest periods, and paid holidays.

The Working Time Regulations give workers in the UK the following rights:

  • A maximum working week of 48 hours (although workers may opt out and choose to work longer)
  • A maximum working week of 48 hours for night shift workers (workers cannot opt out of this)
  • A maximum of eight hours per day for night workers involving hazards or significant physical/mental pressures Free health check-ups for night workers
  • 5.6 weeks’ paid annual leave
  • One day off each week 11 hours of rest each day
  • At least a 20 minute break for those working more than six hours each day

Are there any exceptions to the Working Time Regulations?

Yes, there are some exceptions.

16 and 17-year-olds have stronger rights. The EU Young Workers Directive ensures that these workers must get a continuous rest period of 12 hours each day, as well as a continuous rest period of 48 hours each week.

Some workers in transport industries have different rights. For example, bus drivers aren’t entitled to standard rest breaks, but are still required to have ‘adequate rest’.

Road haulage drivers and coach drivers are also protected by EU-wide legislation that places limits on driving hours.

We previously touched upon the ability of workers to opt-out of the 48 hour working week limit. Organisations are legally allowed to ask employees to opt-out of the limit, but workers cannot be sacked or unfairly treated if they choose not to do so. If they do wish to opt-out, the agreement must be in writing and given voluntary.

In addition, there are some workers who cannot opt-out of the limit. These include:

  • Airline staff
  • Shipping and boat workers
  • Workers in the road transport industry
  • Security guards on vehicles carrying valuable goods

Working Time Regulations, holiday pay, and holiday entitlement

Workers’ holiday pay and entitlement also fall under the Working Time Regulations.

The Working Time Regulations give workers the right to 5.6 weeks’ paid holiday entitlement each year.

Holiday pay and entitlement should be applied fairly and consistently, but there are types of working agreements that can cause some confusion.

There are many businesses out there who don’t fully understand how holiday pay and entitlement should be applied to zero hours workers. Even though zero hours workers aren’t guaranteed any hours, they are still entitled to holiday pay like any other worker. This article shows you how.

Working out holiday entitlement for part time workers is also often a pain point for many HR professionals. Luckily for you, we’ve created the definitive guide to work out pro-rata holiday entitlement the right way.

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