What are my working hours rights in a nutshell?

Most adult workers have a right to:

  • a 20-minute uninterrupted break (unpaid) away from the workstation where the working day is longer than six hours. The break must be taken during working time (i.e. not at the start or the end of your shift);
  • a guaranteed daily rest period of 11 hours every working day (though, exceptionally, part of this can be deferred to be taken at the next available opportunity);
  • a guaranteed weekly rest period of 24 hours once in every seven days (or 48 hours in every 14 days);
  • a ceiling of 48 hours on the maximum average working week;
  • a ceiling on night work of an average of eight hours work in every 24;
  • a free health assessment for all night workers with a possibility to transfer to day work (where it is available) if working at night is damaging a worker's health; and
  • the right to 5.6 weeks' annual leave (four weeks of which must be taken and cannot normally be carried over into the following year).

However, the law is unduly complicated and there are quite a few variations, including the following:

  • The weekly limit on working time is an average. You can work more than 48 hours in a week as long as your average hours don't exceed 48. The average is worked out in different ways for different groups of workers, and the workforce as a whole can agree to change the way it's worked out.
  • You can sign an individual opt-out and lose the protection of the weekly limit, but you can reverse your opt-out at any time and regain your rights. The notice period for this cannot be more than three months. There is no opt-out from the 48-hour maximum average weekly limit on nightwork or any of the other provisions.

In a new judgment delivered in May 2019, the European Court of Justice has said that employers must record workers’ daily working hours. This is a change to the law and it goes beyond the current working time regulations, which do not require employers to keep a running total of how much time individuals work on average each day or week.

•    The benefits for UK workers of this new ruling will depend on the terms on which the UK leaves the European Union. 


Note: This content is provided as general background information and should not be taken as legal advice or financial advice for your particular situation. Make sure to get individual advice on your case from your union, a source on our free help page or an independent financial advisor before taking any action.

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