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Working time rights

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Most people at work have a right to rest breaks, and daily and weekly rest periods and the right not to be pressured into agreeing to work more than 48 hours a week on average. There are also protections for individuals doing night work and special rules for young workers.

A young worker is between the ages of 15 and 17 and is over compulsory school leaving age.

Compulsory School Age

In England and Wales: a person is no longer of compulsory school age after the last Friday of June of the school year in which their 16th birthday occurs.

In Northern Ireland: a person is no longer of compulsory school age after the 30th June of the school year in which their 16th birthday occurs.

In Scotland: pupils whose 16th birthday falls between 1st March and 30th September may not leave before the 31st May of that year. Pupils aged 16 on or between 1st October and the last day of February may not leave until the start of the Christmas holidays in that school year.

For further detailed information about the working time rules that apply to young workers please see the TUC guide, 'Enforcing your Basic Workplace Rights'.

Who has working time rights?

These working time rights apply to all employees and workers from the first day of employment. The rights apply to most agency workers, homeworkers and freelancers. Only those who are self-employed and are genuinely running their own business do not have the right to paid annual leave.

For more information on whether you are an employee, a worker or self-employed, please go to the employment status section.

Working time rights do not apply to:

  • individuals who are self-employed and who are genuinely running their own business
  • individuals who can choose freely their hours and duration of work (such as a managing executive)
  • the armed forces, emergency services and police are excluded in some circumstances
  • domestic servants in private houses

Working time rules also apply differently to some groups of workers (e.g. those who have to travel a long distance from home to get to work) and in some sectors or workplaces (e.g. security, hospitals, or air, road or sea transport) or when there is an emergency or accident. For more information on these rules please follow this link:

Rest breaks

You have the right to a rest break of at least 20 minutes where you work for a continuous period of six hours or more during a working day / shift. If you are under 18 however, you are entitled to a 30-minute break after working four and a half hours.

Additional or longer breaks may be provided for in your contract.

A lunch break or coffee break can count as a rest break.

The requirements are:

  • the break must be in one block
  • it cannot be taken off one end of the working day - it must be somewhere in the middle
  • you are allowed to spend it away from the workplace

Your employer can say when rest breaks can be taken provided they meet these requirements.

You do not have an automatic right to be paid for rest breaks. Whether you receive pay for rest breaks will depend on your contract.

Daily rest periods

You have the right to a rest period of 11 uninterrupted hours every working day.

If you are under 18, you are entitled to a 12 hour uninterrupted rest period per working day.

This rest period must be continuous and uninterrupted.

Weekly rest breaks

You have the right to a rest period of either:

  • 24 hours in every 7 day period or
  • 48 hours in every fortnight

This rest period must be continuous and uninterrupted.

Employers have a duty to make sure that you take your breaks.

48 hour working time limit

You have the right not to work more than 48 hours a week on average. This limit is averaged over a 17-week period. This means that it is legal to work more than 48 hours in some weeks, so long as you work less in others.

You can opt out of this right unless you work at night, but should not be pressured to opt out. The opt-out must be voluntary and must be in writing.

You have a right to opt back in again to working time protection at anytime, but you must give your employer at least 7 days notice. You may be required to give more notice - up to 3 months, if you previously agreed to this with your employer in writing.

Young workers and working time limits

The weekly working time limits for young workers are 8 hours a day and 40 hours per week.

For the majority of young workers these are absolute limits. A young worker's working time is not averaged over a reference period, so in one week they must not work more than 40 hours. The opt-out provisions do not apply to young workers. Please see the section below.

Young workers will only be able to work more than 8 hours per day, or 40 hours per week if they are needed to:

  • keep the continuity of service or production
  • respond to a surge in demand for a service or product

And provided that:

  • there is no adult available to do the work
  • their training needs are not negatively affected

For further detailed information about your working time rights and how these can be enforced please see the TUC guide, 'Enforcing your Basic Workplace Rights'.

What counts as working time?

As well as time spent doing your job, your working time will include time spent on:

    job related training
  • job related travelling time, although not time spent travelling from home to work
  • overtime, whether paid or unpaid
  • time spent 'on-call' at the workplace
  • working lunches
  • time spent working abroad if you work for a UK- based company

What does not count as working time?

Your working time does not include:

  • breaks when no work is done, e.g. lunch breaks
  • time when you are on-call away from the workplace (although time spent working when away from the workplace, e.g. answering calls at home, will count as working time)
  • paid or unpaid holidays

Working in more than one job

If you work for more than one employer, the combined time that you work should not exceed more than 48 hours, unless you have signed the opt out with your employers.

Night work

Regular night workers should not work more than eight hours in each 24-hour period. The Working Time Regulations allow for night work to be averaged over a 17-week period in the same way as weekly hours of work. Please note that there is no opt out from the night work limits.

If your night work involves special hazards or heavy physical or mental strain, you cannot be made to work more than eight hours in any 24 hour period.

Young workers under 18 are not permitted to work between 10pm-6am.

Before night work can commence an employer must have offered you an opportunity to undertake a free health assessment unless you have previously had a health assessment which is still valid.

Your employer must then offer you free health assessments at regular intervals, to ensure it is still safe for you to undertake night work.

Where an employer is advised by a doctor/registered medical practitioner that you cannot undertake night work, the employer should where possible, transfer you to work which they are suited and is work within normal working time (day time).

It is good practice for your employer to provide you with enhanced pay rates for doing night work or unsocial hours. But you will not have a right to receive enhanced pay for doing night work, unless your contract provides for it.

What can I do if I am not allowed to take rest breaks or am asked to work excessive hours?

If your employer does not permit you to take rest breaks or daily or weekly breaks, you can make a complaint to an Employment Tribunal.

If your employer pressurises you to work more than 48 hours when you have not signed an opt-out or does not comply with night work rules, you can make a complaint through the Pay and Work Rights helpline.

It is always a good idea to seek advice from your union rep or from the ACAS Helpline before taking steps to enforce your rights.

For more information please go to the section on enforcing your rights.

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