Your normal working hours should be set out in your employment contract. Unless you opt out, the Working Time Regulations in the UK state that you should not be required to work more than 48 hours per week.
Some job sectors which have their own special rules which mean workers can work longer hours.
Even if you do not have a written contract, you must be given written terms and conditions of your working patterns. This includes the number of contracted hours, within 2 months of starting work.
The 48 Hour Working Week
Your average working hours are calculated over a 17 week period. That means you can work more than 48 hours in a week as long as the average is 48 hours or less over the 17 week period.
There are special rules for some workers such as young workers, trainee doctors and mobile workers in the transport sector.
If you are under 18 and over school leaving age, you are classed as a young worker.
Young workers cannot be asked to work more than 8 hours a day or 40 hours a week. These hours cannot be averaged out over a longer period.
There are some exceptions to these rules, but only in very unusual situations. Our guide on how many hours you can work at 16 & 17 explains the rules on young workers.
What Counts as Work?
In addition to carrying out your normal duties, your working week includes:
- Job-related training.
- Job-related travelling time (e.g. if you are a sales rep).
- Working lunches.
- Time spent working abroad (if you work for a UK company).
- Paid and some unpaid overtime.
- Time spent ‘on call’ at the workplace.
The Working Time Regulations & Your Rights
In addition to the 48 hour working week, the basic rights and protections that the regulations provide are:
- For night shift workers, a limit of an average of 8 hours work in 24 which they are required to work.
- Night workers have the right to receive free health assessments.
- A minimum 11 hours between shifts.
- Getting a day off each week.
- The right to an in work rest break if the shift is 6 hours or more.
- 4 weeks paid leave per year.
Our guides on rest breaks at work look at break entitlements on common shift lengths.
- Read about break entitlements on 8 hour shifts for all workers.
- Our guide on the right to breaks during 12 hour shifts will be of help to workers on long days or nights.
Opting Out of The 48 Hour Week
If you are 18 or over and wish to work more than 48 hours per week, you can choose to opt out of the 48 hour limit. This must be voluntary and put in writing.
It can’t be an agreement with the whole workforce and you shouldn’t be sacked or treated unfairly for refusing to sign an opt out.
If you do decide to sign an opt out, you have the right to cancel this agreement at any time by giving between one week and 3 months notice. You can also cancel an opt out even if it’s part of any contract you’ve signed.
There are some exceptions to several of the Working Time Regulations.
Other useful organisations providing more information about the Working Time Regulations are ACAS and the Health and Safety Executive.
See also: Full time & part time working hours – how many hours a week different types of employment contract involve.