Working Time Regulations

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The number of working hours which a worker may undertake are now restricted by regulations, like many innovations in Employment Law in recent years this originates from the E.U.

The regulations apply to most categories of workers (workers on ships, aircraft, drivers and members of the armed forces/police and those of compulsory school age are covered by alternate regulations). Doctors were covered by the regulations from August 2009 onwards.

The regulations cover:

Maximum weekly working:

Adults should not work more than an average of 48 hours in each week. Work includes undertaking ordinary duties, relevant training or being at the employer’s disposal. It does not include travel to work or rest breaks. “On call” times count as working time if undertaken at the workplace but not if undertaken at home. The average number of hours worked is usually calculated over a period of 17 weeks.

It is possible for workers to elect to opt out of the regulations – in so far as they govern the number of hours worked. The workers consent must be in writing and the worker can terminate this by 7 days notice.

Night Work:

Employers must take care to ensure that a night worker does not undertake more than an average of 8 hours night work in each 24 hours (averaged over 17 weeks). There are regulations to define what night work is (the default position is work undertaken between 11.00 p.m. and 6.00 p.m.).

This element of the regulations is more onerous. It is not possible to “opt out” and before assigning a worker to night duties the employer must provide an opportunity for the worker to undergo a full health check. These must be offered at “regular” intervals thereafter. There are additional safeguards for those whose duties include heavy physical or mental exertion. If an employer is advised by a doctor that a night worker is suffering health problems as a consequence of the work regime the employer must endeavour to transfer the worker to day work.

Rest Periods:

Workers are entitled to rest periods of –

  1. At least 11 hours in any 24 hour period (there are more complicated rules for those working shifts)
  2. An un-interrupted rest period of 24 hours in each 7 days.
  3. A break of at least 20 minutes after a working period of 6 hours.

Employers are required to keep written records for periods of two years to verify compliance with these regulations. Enforcement of the regulations is undertaken by the Health & Safety Executive and breach may result in prosecution.

If a worker wishes to enforce the regulations options include:-

  1. Seeking a declaratory order and injunction in the civil courts.
  2. Making a complaint to an Employment Tribunal (time limit 3 months from the act complained of). It is automatic unfair dismissal to dismiss a worker who insists on his rights pursuant to the WTR. Repeatedly seeking to enforce an employee to work excessive hours may form a case for constructive dismissal.

This can be no more than a brief summary of complex regulations. You should take advice specific to your situation.



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Quintin Barry

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Chris Kingham

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