Working Time Regulations in the UK: A Comprehensive Guide

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The UK Working Time Directive grants employees more control over how much work they do in a given period. However, working time regulations can be challenging to navigate and could potentially expose companies to employee disputes or tribunal claims. Below is a comprehensive guide to help your company comply with the working time regulations.

Key Facts

  • In the UK, the 1998 Working Time Regulations limit the hours an employee is required to work.

  • ‘Working time’ refers to the period when you can tell employees what they can and can’t do.

  • The Working Time Directive outlines a minimum number of rest breaks your workforce is entitled to and guides you on how to prepare employee schedules.

What Are Working Time Regulations?

The laws on working time, based on the Working Time Regulations of 1998, set in motion laws and procedures surrounding employee working hours. This type of legislation sets the maximum hours employees are required to work.

Additionally, it gives workers the right to a minimum length of rest breaks. Regulations like these were implemented to prevent adverse outcomes to the health and safety of UK employees due to the consequences of overwork or burnout.

Working Time Directive: What Counts as Working Time? Definition and Examples

The 1998 Working Time Regulations define ‘working time’ as a period during which:

  • The employer can tell an employee what they can and cannot do.

  • The employee is carrying out their work-related duties. 

Many work activities fall under that criteria, including:

  • Travel to meet with clients

  • Training new hires

  • Being on call

However, it’s also essential to understand what activities aren’t governed by working time regulations laws, such as:

  • Travel between an employee’s home and the workplace

  • Rest breaks taken before any work has been done

  • Any travel outside normal working hours (taking a plane to a conference, for example)

  • Training that an employee undertakes independently

Working Time Regulations in the UK: Key Aspects

The finer details of the UK Working Time Regulations are often difficult to track. However, at a minimum, your company is expected to understand three key aspects of the law. 

1. Maximum Weekly Working Time

The Working Time Directive states that employees can’t work more than 48 hours per week unless they opt out of that constraint. Keep in mind that working hours are calculated over 17 weeks. Your staff can work more than 48 hours in a given week as long as their average number of work hours doesn’t exceed 48 within the timeframe. 

Additionally, some industries are exempt from the 48-hour time limit. For example, nurses and correctional officers typically work more because their industries require 24-hour staffing. In contrast, employees under 18 can only work up to 40 hours a week, regardless of circumstance. 

2. Rest Breaks 

Working time regulations state that your employees are entitled to a 20-minute rest break if their shift lasts longer than six hours. In addition, workers must have 11 hours of rest between workdays (you can’t schedule them to close the shop and open the next day, for example).

3. Annual Leave and Holiday Entitlement

Regulations entitle employees to 5.6 weeks paid holiday per year or 28 days for someone working only five days a week. It’s up to the company whether their workforce’s statutory leave includes bank holidays or whether they grant their employees annual leave above the minimum.

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Working Time Rules for Special Cases

Because certain employees work outside typical working hours, there are regulations to accommodate their rights specifically. 

Night Workers

The law defines ‘nighttime’ as the period between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. However, companies can designate a different time frame as long as it’s at least 7 hours long and includes the hours between 12 midnight and 5 a.m. Night employees are restricted to working no more than eight hours in a 24-hour period with no option to work overtime.

Because of the potential negative impact on an employee’s well-being, you must administer a health assessment before someone becomes a night worker. It’s also recommended to repeat assessments periodically to identify potential health problems that decrease an employee’s ability to work. 

Shift Workers 

There isn’t a legal definition of shift work. However, it often refers to work outside of typical daytime hours where there’s a handover of duties from one individual to another within a 24-hour period. Working time regulations state that a shift-based work schedule should include 11 consecutive hours of rest breaks between shifts. Additionally, a day off should be given at least once every two weeks while also allowing for a 24-hour rest break after a 24-hour shift.

Employer Responsibilities and Employee Rights

As soon as employees start working at your company, they’re entitled to certain statutory rights. Accordingly, you have several responsibilities as the employer to uphold these rights and avoid legal ramifications. These responsibilities include:

  • Pay your employees at least the national minimum wage. The minimum wage is: 

    • £10.42 for employees 23 and over

    • £10.18 for 21 to 22

    • £7.49 for 18 to 20

    • £5.28 for 18 and under

  • Give employees a safe working environment with ready access to clean water, first aid equipment, safety clothing and other precautions.

  • Provide employees with a 20-minute rest period if they work six hours or more.

  • Offer employees at least 5.6 weeks of holiday entitlements (the amount of time off differs between full-time and part-time workers).

  • Tightly control any employee health or safety risks discovered through a health assessment.

  • Establish a company policy that prohibits discrimination based on protected characteristics such as age, gender, sexual orientation, and more.

  • Give employees at least one month’s notice of dismissal if they’ve been with your company for longer than a month but less than two years. 

Frequently Asked Questions About Working Time Regulations in the UK

What Is the Working Time Directive?

The Working Time Directive is a labour law that sets limits on the maximum working hours for employees and mandates the minimum duration of rest breaks that employers must provide.

You can’t require your employees to work more than 13 hours in a day without their consent.

To What Breaks Is an Employee Entitled Under the Working Time Directive?

Breaks employees are entitled to include:

  • 20-minute breaks when they work six hours or more

  • 11 hours of rest between workdays

  • Weekly rest of 24 hours within a 7-day work period or 48 hours in a 14-day work period

  • Holiday entitlements

Protect Your Employees and Your Business

UK Employment Laws like the Working Time Regulations help clarify the relationship between employers and employees while protecting both parties with established legal frameworks. The added clarity for proper conduct helps avoid disputes with your workforce and helps keep the ones that do arise from escalating. Employment laws are a big topic; the more your business understands them, the more it can thrive in its market.


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