What you need to know about working hours and rest breaks
The way working hours are arranged can help an organisation to manage its business and help workers balance their responsibilities at work and at home. Many businesses are under pressure to satisfy demands 24/7, and must balance this with the needs of their workers.
The Working Time Regulations determine the maximum weekly working time, patterns of work and holidays, plus the daily and weekly rest periods. They also cover the health and working hours of night workers. The Regulations apply to both part time or full-time workers, including the majority of agency workers and freelancers, although certain categories of workers are excluded.
In general, the Working Time Regulations provide rights to:
- a limit of an average 48 hours a week on the hours a worker can be required to work, though individuals may choose to work longer by “opting out”
- paid annual leave of 5.6 weeks’ a year
- 11 consecutive hours’ rest in any 24-hour period
- a 20-minute rest break if the working day is longer than six hours
- one day off each week
- a limit on the normal working hours of night workers to an average eight hours in any 24-hour period, and an entitlement for night workers to receive regular health assessments.
Any proposals to change patterns of working are best carried out in a consultative way, explaining the reasons behind such a move and the benefits which may accrue to both the organisation and worker.
Workers have the right to take an uninterrupted 20-minute rest break, away from the workstation, if their day’s working time is more than six hours. Workers can be required to remain in or about their workplace (but not at their workstation) while taking a rest break, provided that they are not still having to perform any duties.
Note that the statutory right is limited to one 20-minute break per day if the shift is at least six hours. Even if the shift is 12 hours or more (for example), only one break need be offered (subject to the employer’s general duty to prevent risks to health and safety).
Employers may use a collective or workforce agreement to exclude or modify the right to the rest break provided compensatory rest is given wherever possible. A collective or workforce agreement may also be used to determine the duration of the rest break or the terms on which it is granted.
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