Working time in England and Wales

A high level outline of the working time obligations that apply to England and Wales.

Introduction

The main law is the Working Time Regulations 1998 which lays down the minimum health and safety requirements for the organisation of working time.

Key concepts

Workers

The law applies to workers.

Working time

Working time is any period during which a worker is working, at his or her employer’s disposal and carrying out his activity or duties.

Night Worker

A night worker is someone who works at least three hours of his or her daily working time during night time as a normal course. Night time is between 23.00 and 06.00 unless varied by a relevant agreement.

Shift worker

A shift worker is any worker whose work schedule is part of shift work. Shift work means any method of organising work in shifts whereby workers succeed each other at the same work stations according to a certain pattern which may be continuous or discontinuous.

Maximum working time

Daily

There are no specific rules on the maximum daily working time.

Weekly

Unless an employer has first obtained the worker’s agreement in writing to perform such work, a worker’s working time must not exceed 48 hours in each seven days.

Rest periods and breaks

Daily rest period

Workers must have a minimum daily rest period of 11 consecutive hours in every 24 hour working period.

Weekly rest period

Workers must have an uninterrupted weekly rest period of not less than 24 hours in each seven day period.

Rest breaks

A worker working more than six hours must have a rest break of at least 20 minutes uninterrupted.

Annual leave

Details in relation to annual leave entitlements are available here.

Shift working

Shift workers are not entitled to daily or weekly rest periods:

  • when they change shift and cannot take such rest periods between the end of one shift and the start of the next one, or 
  • when they are engaged in activities involving periods of work split up over the day, (for example cleaning staff).

Compensatory rest

Workers are entitled to an equivalent period of compensatory rest if they are excluded from rest periods or rest breaks because they are “special cases” or shift workers.

Opting out of the maximum working week

A worker can choose to agree to work more than the 48 hour weekly limit. To be valid:

  • the opt out must be in writing
  • it can be for a specified period or for an indefinite period
  • the opt out must not specify a notice period of more than three months for the worker to terminate it, and
  • if there is no specified notice period, the employee need only give seven days’ notice to terminate the opt out.

Records

Employers must keep up to date records of all workers who have opted out of the maximum working week.

The employer must keep up to date records of all workers who have opted out of the maximum weekly working time and adequate records to show that it has complied with the provisions in relation to:

  • maximum weekly working time
  • length of night work, and
  • health assessments.

Such records must be retained for two years from the date on which they were made.

Failure to comply with the law

Various obligations under the Regulations are enforced by the Health and Safety Executive, the Civil Aviation Authority, the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency or local authorities.

Failure to comply with these obligations may result in criminal prosecution and an unlimited fine.

Restrictions on contracting out

Any provision in an agreement is void in so far as it purports to exclude or limit the operation of the law, save in so far as the law provides for an agreement to have that effect, or to preclude a person from bringing proceedings under the law before an employment tribunal.

Further information on working time in England and Wales is available from our International Employment Issues microsite here.

This document (and any information accessed through links in this document) is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Professional legal advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from any action as a result of the contents of this document.