Working Time Regulations and the forty-eight hour week

Working Time Regulations 1998

The Working Time Regulations first came into force on the 1st October 1998 made specifically to implement the European Union Directive Council Direction 93/104 EC.  They have since been amended by the Working Time Regulations 2007 and the Working Time Regulations 2009.

They first applied to full-time, part-time, agency and casual workers but have now been extended to include the following:

  • Non-mobile workers in road, sea, inland waterways and lake transport
  • Workers in the railway and offshore oil and gas sectors
  • Workers in the aviation industry

What is meant by Work?

The following will be included within the definition of work

  • Job-related training
  • Job-related travelling time, specifically in relation to sales representatives
  • Time spent on call at the workplace – on call outside the workplace does not count
  • Time spent working outside of the UK if you work specifically for a UK business
  • Overtime – paid or unpaid. Voluntary overtime does not count for example if you stay a little late to fully complete a task. It must be agreed overtime.

Breaks when no work is done, normal travel time to and from work, and paid or unpaid leave does not fall within the definition of work.

Key Provisions

When the Working Time Regulations were first introduced they contained a number of key provisions dealing with the following issues:

  • Entitlement of workers to a minimum daily rest period of 11 consecutive hours in each 24 hour period
  • Provision of a rest break for workers where the working day is longer than six hours, the duration of which was to be determined by collective agreements between the two parties or by national legislation
  • Require workers to receive a minimum weekly rest period of 35 hours in each 7 day period
  • Limit the average working time during each 7 day period to 48 hours
  • Require that workers receive four weeks annual paid leave
  • Restrict the normal hours or work of night workers to an average of 8 hours in any 24 hour period and impose an absolute limit of 8 hours where the work involves special hazards or heavy physical or mental strain
  • Night workers should be entitled to a fee health assessment
  • Night workers suffering from ill-health recognized as being connected with their work should be transferred to day work whenever possible
  • Night and shift workers should be provided with health and safety protection arrangements
  • Require employers to take into account the general principal of adapting work to the worker, for example to alleviating monotonous work.
  • If an employee is dismissed or selected for redundancy due to taking their annual leave entitlement and their entitlement to breaks during the working day or working week then this could amount to an Unfair Dismissal.

Workers Under 18

Workers over 16 but under 18 who work from 10pm until 6am are entitled to free health assessments. They are entitled to 48 hours in each 7 day period and a 30 minute break if they have worked more than 4.5 hours. 

The 48 Hour Week

As previously stated the working time during a seven day period should be limited to 48 hours. There is however a specific opt out clause where workers can work more than the limit imposed by the regulations.

Opting Out of the 48 Hour week

This only applies to workers who are over 18 and they must have chosen to do so, i.e. they have to have made a voluntary decision to opt out and must be evidenced in writing.

As an employer can I impose an opt out on my entire workforce?

There cannot be an agreement in place which makes it mandatory for all workers across an entire workforce to work more than the 48 hour week as it has to be a voluntary decision by each individual worker. Workers who do not wish to opt out cannot be unfairly treated because of their decision by not getting a promotion or even getting sacked. This would amount to Unfair Dismissal.

Can an opt out agreement be cancelled once in place?

There is a right of cancellation at any time and all that needs to be given is between one week and three months notice. Often the agreement between the employer and employee will specify how much notice needs to be given. If this is not the case one week will be sufficient.

I am a trainee doctor, how am I affected by the working time regulations?

In the case of trainee doctors under the Working Time Regulations 2007 they were subject to working a maximum of 56 hours. Now following the introduction of the Working Time Regulations 2009 they will be subject to a working week of a maximum of 48 hours after 1 August 2009.

Whether this will remain the case  is currently up for debate with many doctors calling for their working week, especially in the case of surgeons, to be increased to around 65 hours. They believe that since the introduction of the Working Time Regulations 2009 patient care and continuity has dropped significantly due to the fact the doctors are not able to work as often.

Are all kinds of jobs covered by the working week legislation?

The following jobs are not included within the working week legislation:

  • Armed forces, emergency services and police
  • Domestic workers in private homes
  • Sea transport workers
  • Mobile workers in inland waterways and lake transport
  • Workers on board sea going vessels
  • Jobs where you choose freely how long you work, for example a chief executive of a company.