Working Time Regulations UK – Guide to 48 Hour Week Laws

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.

Young Workers

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.

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.

12 thoughts on “Working Time Regulations UK – Guide to 48 Hour Week Laws

  1. Gassy says:

    Hi I’m a gas engineer who has to do standby 1/5 and the guys are regularly working 8am – 9 or 10 pm during the week and probably 12 hrs on sat and Sunday I’ve not signed anything that I do not wish to do these hrs but can I force them if I do not want too ???

  2. dea says:

    Hi, I work in a shop that at every 6 weeks we have a night shift for 5 nights, my job title is a VM and I have a full time contract 40hours, when we had our last night shift we stayed for about 12 hours at work and at the end they come to me saying that I have to stay for longer cause we still have things to do and when I said that I can not stay for longer they said that if is necessary to stay till afternoon or till night we have to, I said to them that my contract is just for 40 hours then I been told that they will put me in a position of a sale associate and that they will call me in a meeting to discuss about my behavior, is that normal?

  3. mexy says:

    I have a contract stating my employer gives me work a min of 16hrs per week the contract is dated to expire on 1-1-16 but due to quiet period 2weeks ago all ther was was 10 hrs work for me and that’s all I got paid for wen I asked him bout getting 16hrs pay he says he cant pay me for work that wasn’t ther ,is ther anything I can do bout this

  4. chloe says:

    hello, i am a youth worker working 21hrs a week for the last 1year and 5months. my employee has suddenly temporarily reduced my hours to 4 hrs a week with only 24 hours notice and i have no say?!?!? is this right?? can they do this to me?

    • Safe Workers says:

      @chloe – Your employer cannot do this without your consent and should ideally give 4 weeks notice before implementation of any changes (after consent is given). Follow the steps in the article above – the paragraph entitled: “Breaches of Contract”

  5. hammy says:

    If I decide to sign out of the 48 hour week for a new job are there any regulations regarding working hours that will still apply to me?

    • Safe Workers says:

      @hammy – If you opt out – then the Working time regulations do not apply to you, but you do have the right to opt back in whenever you choose (as long as you give 7 days notice to your employer). Your employer cannot sack you or threaten to sack you for opting back in.

  6. Dr. No says:

    Hi, so i work at an ice rink and from time to time, my boss will call me within 2 hours of a shift and say they need me to come in. When i go in, I do not get paid overtime or receive any sort of extra compensation. What I’m asking is if I take a shift that was offered within 2 hours of the start of the shift, should i receive extra compensation?

  7. Shanny says:

    I work 20 hours aweek , but my boss is continuously ring me to do more hours, which I’m unable to as I’m a single parent and got no more childcare, but on contract it does say that I have to work sick cover and holiday cover. What can I do as she is making my life HELL

    • Safe Workers says:

      @Shanny – Sounds like this clause in your contract is ‘unreasonable’ and is being used to make you regularly work extra days. You need to speak to your manager’s superior or your HR department directly.

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