Employers' Guide To Working Time Regulations UK

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The Working Time Regulations for the UK are a set of laws establishing the maximum time an employee can work including rest breaks and paid annual leave. While this sounds simple enough, there are nuances that must be understood and specific rules that, if not followed, could lead to legal problems down the line.  

In this article, we are going to provide a comprehensive overview of what the regulations mean for employers, including rules for special case workers, mistakes to avoid surrounding working time regulations and how it impacts annual leave entitlement.  

What are the Working Time Regulations?

The Working Time Regulations 1998 refer to laws which put a limit on how many hours an employee can work a week. The regulations state that an employee can work a maximum of 48 hours per week unless they specifically opt out. The purpose of these regulations is to ensure that a worker’s health and safety is protected, and that they are given enough time to rest and recuperate.   

Working Time Regulations in the UK are also sometimes known as the Working Time Directive, which was a piece of legislation that was introduced by the EU in 1994. The Working Time Directive was brought into UK law in 1998. 

Why were the Working Time Regulations introduced?

The Working Time Regulations were introduced in 1998 with the intent to safeguard the wellbeing of workers and give clear guidance of when they can work within a specific amount of time. The set of laws has helped to encourage a healthy work/life balance which can improve employee productivity and motivation. This in turn leads to higher performance and efficiency in the workplace.   

As an employer, it is your legal obligation and responsibility to ensure compliance with these regulations. Carefully monitoring your workforce to guarantee their safety at work is paramount. You can find more information on the topic by visiting The Working Time Regulations 1998 (legislation.gov.uk)

What are the main provisions of the Working Time Regulations?

Let’s discuss the main provisions of the working time regulations in a bit more detail: 

  • Weekly working hours: A maximum limit is set on the number of hours an employee can work in a week. This is usually 48 hours, averaged over 17 weeks.  
  • Young workers: For those under 18, the maximum is 8 hours a day or 40 hours a week. 
  • Rest breaks: A rest period of 20 minutes for every six hours worked is given. 
  • Daily rest: A minimum daily rest period of 11 consecutive hours between working days. 
  • Weekly rest: Employees are entitled to a rest period of at least 24 hours in each seven-day period. 
  • Night work: Additional provisions are provided for night workers, including limits on the average number of night hours worked per week. 
  • Annual leave: Employees are entitled to a minimum number of paid annual leave days. This is usually 5.6 weeks per year which includes public holidays. 
  • Records: Employers are required to keep records of employees' working hours to demonstrate full compliance with regulations.

Having a thorough understanding of these regulations and what they mean for your employees will ensure that you follow them properly. 

What are the rules for “special case” workers?

Usually Working Time Regulations mean that workers can’t work more than a 48-hour week on average over a 17-week rolling period. However, if an employee works within an industry that is deemed a “special case”, the period can be extended to 26 weeks.   

Special case workers include: 

  • Security or surveillance workers 
  • Employees who work in transportation (e.g., airline pilots, truck drivers)  
  • Those working on docks or offshore platforms 

For these workers, due to the unique nature of their roles or industries, different rules are applied. 

Who is exempt?

While the regulations apply to most full-time and part time workers, there are also specific people who are exempt from Working Time Regulations. This includes: 

  • Police force and armed forces 
  • Those whose working time is not measured 
  • Young workers, who are entitled to more lenient allowances

Working Time Regulations and annual leave

Working Time Regulations significantly affect workers’ annual leave entitlements so it’s important for employers to understand this and roll it out to all employees. The Working Time Regulations annual leave allowance give full time workers a minimum annual leave entitlement of 28 days paid leave per year. 

For those whose working hours differ significantly, such as zero-hour contract workers, a pro-rata amount of holiday is offered based on the number of hours worked.

Do employers have to follow the Working Time Directive?

In essence, yes employers are legally obligated to follow the Working Time Directive. The only exception is if an employee chooses to opt out, which we will discuss in more detail below. While opt-outs provide flexibility, employers must still prioritise the wellbeing of their workforce within the boundaries of the law.

Can an employee opt-out from Working Time Regulations?

Employees might be wondering if they can opt out of Working Time Regulations and the answer is yes, they can choose to opt out and instead work over the 48 hour a week limit. However, it is important to note that employers cannot force workers to opt out – it must be done on a voluntarily basis and they can opt back in at any point.  

It is also important to note that if an employee does opt out, they are still entitled to Working Time Regulations breaks and annual leave.

Opt out working time regulations example

If an employee wishes to opt out from Working Time Regulations, they need to request this in writing. Below is an example of the wording that could be used when making this request: 

“I, [Employee Name], hereby agree to opt-out of the maximum weekly working time limits as set forth in the Working Time Regulations 1998. I understand that the standard limit for weekly working time is 48 hours, averaged over a 17-week period, as per the regulations. If I change my mind, I will give my employer (amount of time) notice in writing to end this agreement.” 

Common mistakes and what to avoid

It is crucial for an employer to understand the laws surrounding Working Time Regulations and not make mistakes when it comes to getting them right. Businesses often use cloud-based HR software to automate processes and ensure they are compliant with relevant laws and regulations.  

Below are some common mistakes that should be taken into consideration when ensuring you are meeting the regulations: 

  • Not providing the correct length/number of breaks 
  • Failing to provide additional accrued holiday for overtime 
  • Failing to provide an appropriate amount of rest between the working day due to overtime 
  • Misunderstanding that opting out of the 48-hour working week does not mean opting out of the other provisions (which includes breaks and annual leave).

What happens if an employer does not meet Working Time Regulations?

If an employer fails to adhere to Working Time Regulations, then the employee has the right to seek external advice and take legal action. This could result in fines for the company and compensation to the employee which may lead to significant damage to the reputation of the company.  

However, the repercussions extend beyond financial penalties. Non-compliance often correlates with low employee engagement, increased staff turnover, and a general decline in morale among the workforce. Therefore, for both legal compliance and fostering a positive work environment, employers must abide by Working Time Regulations UK. 

Prevent common mistakes with PeopleHR

Employers must keep accurate record of hours worked as they can serve as proof that employers are respecting the legal average weekly limit. Our Timesheet Software can help with the accurate tracking and recording of your employees' working hours, ensuring that they are being given the correct break entitlements. People HR’s software also makes it extremely easy to track and monitor hours also so it will help to make sure that no employee is overworking the 48 hours per week.

Gareth Moss
By Gareth Moss New Business Sales Team Leader

Gareth Moss is a New Business Sales Team Leader with nearly a decade of experience in the Access PeopleHR product. Gareth specialises in serving those within the SMB market, and his passion lies in helping businesses streamline their HR operations. Before transitioning into his current role, Gareth was a HR software product trainer, making him your ‘go to’ guy for all things PeopleHR.