Working Time Regulations

Working Time Regulations

The Working Time Regulations 1998 deal with the number of hours that an employee can work each week and define the rest breaks and holiday leave that employees are entitled to. The purpose of the Regulations is to ensure the health and safety of employees.

The Regulations provide that employees should not work more than 48 hours, inclusive of overtime, over a period of 7 days. An employer can ask an employee to opt out of the requirement to limit their working week to 48 hours, however an employee does not have to agree to this. An employee who refuses to opt out should not be dismissed or treated unfairly for their refusal.

These are some exceptions to opting out of the 48 hour week:

  • Staff aged 17 and under
  • Airline staff
  • Workers on ships and boats
  • Drivers in the road transport industry, who drive vehicles over 3.5 tonnes
  • Security guards on a vehicle carrying high value goods

An employee who has agreed to opt out of the 48 hour by giving their consent to do so can withdraw the consent if they choose to do so, even if the consent forms part of their contract of employment. The employee can give notice to their employer in line with any notice period that is set out in their contract. This can be a period of up to 3 months. If no notice period is specified then only 7 days notice needs to be given.


The Working Time Regulations give employees a right to paid holidays. Full time employees are entitled to 5.6 weeks of annual leave per year. Part time employees will get a pro rated entitlement, based on the actual hours that they work. Holiday entitlement is also available to employees who work zero hours contracts, those work only during term time and who work irregular shifts. The entitlement is still based on 5.6 weeks per year, and pro rated to reflect the actual hours worked.

This can include public holidays and periods when the workplace is closed. The holiday year will be decided by the employer and will run over a period of 12 months, for example from the start of January to the end of December. There is no automatic entitlement for holiday leave which is accrued and not taken in the holiday year cannot be carried over into the next holiday year.

Employees are entitled to be paid for the annual leave that they take at the rate of a week’s pay for each week of leave that they take. If an individual’s employment comes to an end before the end of the leave year then the employee is entitled to be paid in relation to any accrued, but untaken holiday leave.

Rest breaks

The Working Time Regulations set out a number of matters on rest breaks. Employees are entitled to the following:

  • 20 minutes uninterrupted break for every 6 hours at work
  • 1 rest day in each working week
  • 11 consecutive hours of rest in each 24 hour period of working
  • 8 hour limit on night shift working

There are exceptions to some of the rest periods. These are as follows:

  • Armed forces and emergency services
  • Domestic staff employed in a private house
  • Jobs that need round the clock staffing, for example hospital staff
  • In an industry with busy peaks, for example agricultural work
  • If a collective agreement excludes or changes the restriction on night shift working

How we can help

If you have been denied the correct rest periods by your employer, or if you have not been paid correctly for holiday leave then you might be entitled to pursue a claim in the Employment Tribunal. The time limits for the Employment Tribunal are short and claims need to be pursued within 3 months of the date of any failure by the employer. We can guide you through the Employment Tribunal process in a way that makes the process as straightforward and quick as possible. Contact us to start a claim.