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What are working time regulations and how do they affect your business?

As an employer, you may be wondering what working time regulations involve. As an employee, you'll definitely want to know your rights in this respect. We answer all your questions in this quick, no-nonsense guide.

Working time regulations: overview

The Working Time Regulations Act is a law that was introduced to stop employees working more than 48-hours a week, on average, unless they choose to opt-out.

It’s also known as ‘working time regulations‘ or ‘working time directive‘.

This 48-hour limit is averaged out over a 17-week period. Therefore, you can work more than 48-hours one week as long as over a 17-week period, you average 48-hours a week.

If you’re under the age of 18, this limits you to working no more than 8-hours a day, or 40-hours in any one week. Your working hours cannot be averaged out.

What about working breaks?

There are three types of breaks that employees are entitled to: rest breaks during the working day, rest in between shifts, and weekly rest.

While at work

If you work more than 6 hours a day, you are entitled to one, uninterrupted, 20-minute rest break during your working day. For example, a tea break or a lunch break. This can either be paid or unpaid, depending on your contract.

Time between shifts

An employee should have a minimum of 11 hours of rest between their shifts. For example, if you finish work on Monday at 7pm, you shouldn’t start your next shift before 6am on Tuesday.

Weekly rest

Employees are entitled to:

  • an uninterrupted 24-hours without any work each week.
  • an uninterrupted 48-hours without any work each fortnight.

an exhausted construction worker

Annual leave entitlement

Employers must make sure their employees are able to take their minimum statutory annual leave entitlement under the working time regulations.

This amounts to 28 days’ paid annual leave per year (the equivalent to 5.6 weeks) for most workers who work a 5-day week. Bank holidays can be included as part of statutory annual leave.

You can find out more about annual leave requirements for part-time workers, people working irregular hours, and the rules around bank holidays, on the gov.uk site.

Opting out

It’s possible to opt-out of the regulations maximum hours per week if you wish to work more than 48-hours a week, on average, and you’re over 18.

  • This should be done voluntarily and in writing.
  • You can opt-out for a set time period, or indefinitely.
  • You can cancel your opt-out agreement by giving your employer notice.

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Employees’ responsibilities

If an employee has more than one job, their combined hours shouldn’t be more than 48-hours a week, on average.

It’s an employee’s responsibility to either reduce their hours to achieve this or sign an opt-out agreement.

Image of a weekly timesheet

Breaching the law

The working time regulations are law, therefore failing to comply is an offence.

Employers can be fined and face imprisonment for breaching them.

Working time regulations exemptions

There are some exemptions to working time regulations. Specifically, if you have to work more than 48-hours a week due to your line of work.

For example, if you work in the emergency services, in security, or in a role where you’re in control of your own hours.

For more useful advice, check out our post on hiring employees as a self-employed tradesperson.


Is it legal to work over 12 hours a day in the UK?

It is legal to work over 12 hours a day in the UK. However, workers have the right to 11 hours of rest between shifts.

How many hours should you have off after a night shift?

Night workers must not work more than an average of 8 hours in a 24-hour period. After a night shift, you should have at least 11 hours of rest.

What is Regulation 4 of the Working Time Regulations 1998?

Regulation 4 outlines an employer’s responsibility to take all reasonable steps to protect the health and safety of their workers. Namely, to ensure that the working time regulations are complied with.

How many hours can you work if you opt-out?

If you choose to opt-out of the working time regulations, you can work more than 48-hours a week, on average.

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