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Understanding the Working Time Regulations

To protect the health, safety, and wellbeing of workers, the Working Time Regulations set limitations on the number of hours that employees can work.

This includes setting limitations on how many hours employees can work a week and ensuring that they receive adequate rest time.

Failing to comply with these regulations can not only put your employees at risk but also put you at risk of being taken to an employment tribunal.

What counts as working time?

Under the law, working time is when an employee is at the disposal of the employer. This means that the employer can tell them what they can and cannot do during that time.

If employees are carrying out work activities, duties, or training, this also counts as working time.

Travelling to work only counts if the employee is visiting a client, for example as a travelling salesperson. Regular commuting to a set workplace is not counted.

You should also count the time that an employee is on call as working time if the employee is at a place of work.

How many hours can employees legally work?

Employees should not work more than 48 hours per week.

You can officially calculate if an employee is working the correct number of hours by taking the average over 17 weeks. If they have worked less than 17 weeks, you take the average hours an employee has worked over the number of weeks they have been there.

This applies to all workers unless they have opted out via a separate contract or do a job that is exempt from this law. Some exempt industries include:

  • Agriculture
  • Hospitals
  • The media
  • Public transport services
  • Prisons
  • Public utilities
  • Research and development
  • Residential institutions

The rules are also different for employees who are under the age of 18. By law, a worker who is under 18 must work no longer than eight hours a day, and no more than 40 hours a week.

Young workers also face a restricted period. If their contract does not state the working hours, employees under 18 must not work between 10 pm and 6 am. If their contract allows work after 10 pm, this changes to no working between 11 pm and 7 am.

It is also different for night workers. They must only work eight hours in 24 hours, and they cannot opt out of this.

What rest and breaks should I provide?

The right to rest is another aspect of the Working Time Regulations. This dictates the minimum amount of time between shifts as well as the minimum length of breaks that staff should be provided.

Under the right to rest, employees are entitled to:

  • A 20-minute break if their shift is longer than six hours
  • An 11-hour rest between finishing work and starting their next shift
  • 24 hours every seven days or 48 hours every 14 days between shifts
  • Holiday entitlement.

For workers under 18 years old, this is different. Instead, they are entitled to:

  • A 30-minute break for shifts over 4.5 hours
  • 12 hours of rest between finishing work and their next shift
  • 48 hours of rest taken together each week (reduced to 36 hours for good business reasons, with the additional 12 hours taken as soon as possible).

Whilst these are the minimum requirements, it is important for you as an employer to consider whether more rest would be beneficial for employees.

For example, an employee working a 12-hour shift is still only entitled to one break of 20 minutes, but it may be beneficial for health and safety reasons to increase this.

Staying compliant

All employers must comply with Working Time Regulations.

To be fully compliant, employers must keep records of their employees’ working hours. This is so that you can demonstrate that:

  • Employees are not working above the maximum 48 hours per week
  • Night working rules are being followed
  • Regular health assessments have been offered to night workers
  • Young workers are not working in restricted periods.

Failing to comply could result in an employee taking you to an employment tribunal and reporting you to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) or the local authority.

If you need help and advice with your employees’ working hours, get in touch with our team today.



Amanda Hyam

Senior Associate – Dispute Resolution / Employment

I have specialised in Dispute Resolution, Civil Litigation and Employment law for more than 15 years.  I understand how daunting the prospect of litigation can be and because of this I am always available to discuss concerns.