Working hours and rest breaks
Much that they'd like to, your employers can't make you work all hours. TheSite.org gets out our stopwatch.
How long are you allowed to spend on the job?
In most jobs you can't be forced to work more than 48 hours a week on average, including overtime.
However, you can choose to work more than 48 hours a week if you agree in writing with your employer. You can subsequently change your mind, but you must give your employer at least seven days notice.
There are different rules for workers aged under 18, who must not normally work more than eight hours a day or 40 hours a week.
There are some exceptions to the 48 hour rule. If you work in any of the following jobs you should check your contract of employment for details:
- Police, army and civil protection workers (for example firemen and coastguards)
- Domestic servants in private houses
- Jobs involving security or surveillance activities, for example security guards
- Jobs where work cannot be interrupted because of a need for continuity of service or production
- Jobs where there is a foreseeable rush of activity, for example, tourism
Trainee doctors used to be covered by different rules but are also now limited to 48 hours.
What counts as time at work
The number of hours you can spend at work is usually averaged out over a period of 17 weeks. This is called the reference period.
For working time regulations time at work does not include:
- Days when you are on statutory holiday leave, sick leave, or maternity, paternity, adoption or parental leave
- Lunch breaks (unless you have to work through them)
- Your journey to and from work (unless you have to travel in the course of your job)
Work done at home only counts as time spent working if your employer has agreed to this arrangement.
If you are on call from your workplace, all of the time is counted. If you are on call from home, only the time you spend working counts as time at work.
Most workers are entitled to daily and weekly rest breaks, as well as rest breaks during the course of the working day. Whether you are paid or not for these breaks will depend on what your employment contract says.
If you are aged 18 or over, and your working day is at least six hours, you usually have the right to an uninterrupted rest break of at least 20 minutes.
There's no law about when this break should happen although government guidelines say that the break should be taken during the day rather than at the beginning or the end. You are entitled to spend your break away from your workstation. Lunch breaks count as rest breaks. If you're a shift worker, your rest break should be in addition to any breaks you get in between shifts.
Daily rest breaks
If you are aged 18 or over, you are entitled to 11 hours' rest in a row between each working day.
Weekly rest breaks
If you are aged 18 or over, you are entitled to take one day's rest in each working week. This may be averaged over a two week period - for example, you would be entitled to two days' rest over a fortnight. A week runs from midnight on Sunday to midnight the following Sunday.
Exceptions to rest break rules
There are a few jobs where the law about rest breaks is applied differently - these include couriers, commercial drivers, members of the army and police and security guards. For full details of how regulations are applied in these cases, see the Directgov website.
Rest breaks for under-18s
If you are over school-leaving age but under 18, you are classed as a young worker. You must have 12 hours rest between each working day and two rest days per week. You are also entitled to a 30 minute rest break if you work for longer than four-and-a-half hours.
If you are a young worker, you cannot usually work between:
- 10pm and 6am, or if your contract says you must work after 10pm, between 11pm and 7am. There are some exceptions for people who work in hospitals, agriculture, retail work, hotels and catering, bakeries, post/newspaper deliveries, or who work in connection with cultural, artistic, sporting or advertising activities.
- Midnight and 4am, except in exceptional circumstances.
If your employer is failing to observe the rules on working hours and rest breaks, they are breaking the law. For help and advice you should seek advice from your trade union (if you belong to one), the Pay and Work Rights Helpline on 0800 917 2368, your local Citizens Advice Bureau or you can call the Health and Safety Executive Information Line on 08701 545 500. You could also make a complaint using your company's grievance procedure and, if that does not lead to a resolution, go to an employment tribunal.
Written by Tom Green
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