In 1998, Working Time Regulations came into force preventing employers from overworking their employees. In additions, some basic entitlements such as time off and holiday pay have been afforded. However, the regulations are complex and complicated, they do not apply to everyone and can be opted out of or varied by agreement.
The working week
The average working week should not exceed 48 hours, although this is an average, not a limit on each week. You also have the right to a 20-minute break in a six-hour working day; a rest period of 11 hours in every 24 hours; a guaranteed rest of 24 hours once in every seven days; and four weeks paid leave (pro rata for part-timers).
What counts as working time?
Working time amounts to time spent at your workplace, carrying out your working duties under the direction of your employer. It includes any workplace training, time spent travelling to visit clients and working lunches. It does not include travelling to and from work, time when you are on call but not working, training at a college or time taken to travel to an occasional meeting away from your normal workplace.
Is everyone covered?
No. Some groups of workers are exempt. Exempt workers include: transport workers, seafarers and offshore workers (such as oil riggers); the armed forces and civil protection services; domestic staff in a private household; and those whose working time is not ‘measured or pre-determined’, for example some managers, people working for other members of their family and ministers of religion.
Night Shift work
The regulations covering night workers are different. Your normal hours of work should not exceed eight hours per day on average. If your work is especially hazardous, heavy, or involves physical or mental strain, then your daily working time should not exceed eight hours at all. Your employer must also provide a free medical check when you start night work and should assess your health regularly thereafter. If you are found to be suffering from health and safety problems relating to the performance of night work, your employer must transfer you to suitable day work.
What if I want to work longer hours?
You can waive your rights if you wish, but you must do so in writing. The opt-out can be either for a defined period of time or indefinitely and you must be able to opt back in. Employers can agree with workers to exclude or modify all of the limits and entitlements, apart from the annual leave provisions. However, your employment contract can restrict the times when annual leave is taken, the amount taken at any one time and the amount of notice required to take such leave.
Can my employer sack me, deny me promotion or a pay rise if I refuse to opt out?
No. Your company would be committing an offence if it were to dismiss you or otherwise cause you detriment, such as denying you promotion or a pay rise, if you were to refuse to opt out. If your employer tries to do either, you may have grounds to take your case to an employment tribunal. However, the regulations do not specifically outlaw making an opt-out a condition of getting a job. If you come across this you may have to wait until you have started work, at which time you could withdraw your opt-out.