Working Time Regulations

Working Time Regulations

In 1998 Working Time Regulations regulations were introduced to regulate the time that employees could spend at work. The length of the working day has been an issue of contention for unions for hundreds of years, going back as far as the 1830s.

Employees who work unsocial hours or a shift pattern which is not the average 9-5 will understand how long they really spend at work, particularly the time between shifts which is a crucial factor in determining their quality of life.

working time regulations

The issue of working time has been a controversial area for many years, with numerous strikes and lengthy disputes running throughout the nineteenth century. These strikes resulted in the ‘normal’ working week being reduced from a six day working week of ten or twelve hour days to a five day working week of 35 hours which some employees still benefit from today. Prior to 1998 there was very little in the way of legislation to govern rights over working time.

However, from 1998, UK legislation was introduced as a result of the European Working Time Directive and the working time regulations were recognised under health and safety legislation. These regulations specify a number of different factors that employers must observe. Workers should have a right to paid leave, employees should be provided with rest breaks and restrictions placed on the number of hours that an employee can cover in a week. Nevertheless, the conditions of the new legislation do allow for employees to opt out, so they can work longer hours if they wish to.

Under The Working Time Regulations the working week should be no longer than 48 hours and this can be averaged out over a period of 17 weeks or in some instances, 26 weeks. As an employee it is important to understand exactly what working time is.

The regulations state that working time is a period of time when you are under the instruction of your employer which excludes the time taken to travel to and from your place of work and time taken for meal breaks. The Working Time Regulations applies to all workers, whether they are contracted to the company or not so workers such as freelance staff are also covered.

The Rights of Workers

The regulations contained within this legislation can be amended in accordance with workforce, collective or individual agreements. Through an agreement with an employer, an employee can agree to exceed the limit, but they cannot be made to work in excess of 48 hours a week on average. These 48 hours can include some types of work which is carried out on an ‘on call’ basis.

Employees who work night shifts should not be at work for more than 8 hours in every 24 and this is worked out over an average of 17 weeks. Night work is referred to as being between the hours of midnight and 5am on a regular basis. Staff who work night shifts are also entitled to receive health assessments free of charge. It does not necessarily have to be a full medical assessment, provided that the professional completing the assessment has undergone a period of medical training.

If a registered medical practitioner carries out the assessment and they report to the employer that the employee is suffering from work related health problems as a result of working nights, the employer is under a duty to transfer the employee to day work where it is possible.

Workers are also entitled to 11 hours rest within a 24 hour period and they should be allowed at least a full day off every week. The regulations state that a worker has the right to a period of 24 hours uninterrupted work in any 7 day period or a rest period of 48 hours in 14 days.

Rest Periods

If the working day is longer than six hours, the employee has a right to take a rest break during working hours. This break is for a period of 20 minutes anytime after 6 hours. Whether this break is paid or unpaid will be at the discretion of the employer and should be written in to the workers contract.

Workers should also be entitled to 5.6 weeks of paid leave each year. The number of days that a worker is entitled to will often depend on the number of days in the week that they are at work, with part time employees having their leave worked out on a ‘pro-rata’ basis. Within the regulations, it states that there is no provision to carry leave over to the next year. If a worker fails to use up their annual entitlement, they will lose their right and any unused leave cannot be added to the next year’s allowance. Employers are also able to fix the dates of holidays provided that they issue due notice to their employees.

The worker must provide sufficient notice to take their leave. Usually this is calculated as being twice the length of the holiday period. So if the worker wishes to take a week annual leave, they must provide two weeks’ notice. If the worker fails to give sufficient notice, the leave request can be refused. During their period of leave, the employee should be paid as normal.

When a worker does not attend work their annual leave entitlement will still apply if they are off on the grounds of illness. If the worker was sick during their period of annual leave, they are entitled to take the leave at a later date or if necessary carry the annual leave over to the next year.


On the 01 August 2003, the Working Time Regulations 1998 were amended to provide guidance for certain workers who were excluded from the previous regulations. These workers typically included those in the sea fishing, sea transport, inland waterway or lake transport sectors. The regulations state that although workers in these sectors do not have any protection under the Working Time Regulations, they are protected under other regulations which afford them a paid leave entitlement of 4 weeks, guaranteed rest days and limits on the hours that they can work.

As well as those sectors outlined above, there are a number of other industries who are partially excluded from the regulations for working time including;

  • Police
  • Armed Forces
  • Civil Protection
  • Mobile Workers in Civil Aviation
  • Mobile Workers in Road Transport
  • Domestic Staff

Although these groups of people are excluded from the regulations, there are other regulations that apply and which these workers must refer to.

Civil Aviation Staff – Civil Aviation (Working Time) Regulations 2004

Mobile Workers – Road Transport (Working Time) Regulations 2005

Domestic Staff – Working arrangements are covered by a range of provisions which relate to rest breaks, annual leave and daily and weekly rest times

Working time regulations are an important aspect of any type of employment. They stipulate the length of time that employees can work and the entitlements they have in relation to rest breaks and days off. Employers should be following these regulations and if they are not, workers should seek advice from a suitable advisory body for employment rights to obtain further advice.

About the author:

This article was written by a member of the Expert Answers legal advice team. Expert Answers provides online legal advice on all aspects of UK Law to users in the United Kingdom.