Legal Article - Employment Law

Statutory Maximum Working Hours

The 48-Hour Working Week

Employers are required to take all reasonable steps to ensure that workers do not work more than an average of 48 hours a week over a 17 week period.

Workers on unmeasured working time are exempt from this limit and individual workers can agree to opt out. The averaging period can be 26 weeks for certain categories of workers and collective and other agreements can agree to extend the averaging period to 52 weeks, providing there are objective or technical reasons concerning the organisation of work.

Working time means:

• any period during which a worker is working at their employer’s disposal and carrying out their activities or duties

• any period during which they are receiving relevant training, and

• Any additional period which is to be treated as working time under a relevant agreement.

Time when a worker was “on call” but otherwise free to pursue their own activities would not be working time as the worker would not be working. Similarly, if a worker is required to be at the place of work “on call”, but was sleeping though available to work if necessary they would not be working and so the time spent asleep would not count as working time.

Also, a lunch-break spent at leisure would not be working time. Travel that is required by the job would be working time, but not travel to work, It is unclear at present whether travelling outside normal working hours to attend a training course would be included or not.

Time spent on compulsory training in the evenings at a hotel would be working time, but not social activities. Work taken home on a previously agreed basis with the employer would be working time, but not otherwise.

Working time does not necessarily equate to the time for which an employee is paid, or to contractual hours. Employers and workers can clarify in a relevant agreement what is the definition of working time.

Working Time Reference Period

The standard reference period is 17 weeks. The Regulations say it is any period of 17 weeks in the course of a worker’s employment (in effect a rolling reference period). Employers and workers can agree to it being consecutive periods of 17 weeks with clearly defined dates, or can agree a longer reference period.

If a worker has worked for an employer for less than 17 weeks, the reference period is the period worked to date. Thus, when a worker has worked for four weeks, their average working time should be calculated as an average over that period. It is not possible, therefore, for a new worker to work longer than 48 hours in the first week without infringing the Regulations, unless an individual opt-out has been agreed.


Individual Opt-Out.

An individual worker may choose to agree to work more than the 48-hour average weekly limit. If they do so, the agreement must be in writing and must allow the worker to bring the agreement to an end. The agreement may specify a notice period of up to three months. If no notice period is specified, however, only seven days’ notice would be required. To end the agreement a worker must give written notice to their employer.

An employer must also:

• Maintain records showing which workers have made this type of agreement.

• Make such records available to Health and Safety Executive Inspectors or local authority Environmental Health Officers should they wish to inspect them.
Working Time Records

Employers’ needs to keep adequate records to show they have complied with the weekly working time limit. It is for the employer to determine what records need to be kept. They must be kept for two years. An employer is not required to keep a running calculation of workers’ average weekly working time.

If an employer’s practice does not include recording hours worked by workers because there is a contract stipulating standard working hours (e.g. a regular 9am - 5pm, or 39 hour week), it may be sufficient to meet the requirements by using management systems to ensure the specified hours are kept.

Working Time Regulations Enforcement

This measure will be enforced by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) or local authority Environmental Health Department in accordance with the Health and Safety (Enforcing Authority) Regulations 1998. In general, the HSE is responsible for motor retail premises and Local Authority Officers for petrol retail sites.

Published: 03 Jun 2011

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