The Working Time Regulations (WTR) prevent employers from overworking their employees and enforce the right to basic entitlements such as time off and holiday pay.
Why was the WTR introduced?
It’s clearly an issue that has become significant in recent times. Research by the Trade Union Congress in 2008 stated that five million workers in the UK are clocking up nearly £5,000 in unpaid overtime every year. And, according to figures released by the Office for National Statistics in 2009, just over a fifth of people in employment in the UK (6 million, or 20.1%) work more than 45 hours a week. This is a high proportion by EU standards though other developed countries such as Australia, Japan and the United States have more long-hours workers than the UK.
What are the Regulations?
Essentially, 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).
There are additional protections for night workers, and also for young workers under the age of 18.
You can waive your rights if you wish, but you must do so in writing and you cannot be forced to do this.
The working hours laws have widespread implications. One of the latest to affect employees in the construction industry who work on short-term contracts is a European ruling that employers can no longer 'roll-up' holiday pay. Employers will now have to pay holiday pay at the time their workers actually take their holidays rather than include an amount for holiday pay in the hourly rate of pay. As a result employers may need to renegotiate contracts.
It’s also worth noting here that the wider definition of ‘worker’ includes certain agency workers and self-employed contractors.
How is my company made accountable?
Employers have a general duty to ensure that the workforce works appropriate hours with adequate rest. They must also keep records to show that the regulations are being complied with and take reasonable steps to ensure that the workforce is complying with the 48-hour maximum week. Ultimately, they must ensure that employees are not subject to any detriment on WTR grounds.
The information on these pages is provided for your information and reference only. Before making any important decisions regarding your employment or any legal matter, you should consult a qualified professional adviser who can provide specific advice based on your individual position. You can receive additional guidance from the government-run employment advice service Acas.