Contracted Hours – What They Mean & Your Legal Rights

When you sign a contract of employment, it will contain information on your contracted hours. But what does the information in your contract mean & what rights do you have? For example, if there’s a difference between your contracted hours vs your actual hours.

We look at the law on contracted hours, give insight into what the language on your contract means, and what you should do if you think your employer is breaking the terms of your contract.

Contracted Hours Meaning

Contracted hours are the number of hours an employee must work each week. The hours will be detailed in their contract of employment, and also represent the minimum working hours which the employee is entitled to.

One of the main reasons for needing a contract is for bother employer and employee to be clear on the workers’ contracted hours.

Once contracted hours have been laid out in the employment contract and agreed upon, they become legally binding.

This means two things. Firstly, it is the employer’s responsibility to ensure these hours are offered unless a contract change has been mutually agreed upon. Secondly, employees must stick to their contracted hours and not be found to be in breach of them.

How many hours a worker will be contracted for depends on the type of employment contract they have been issued. There are many different contracts, ranging from zero hours to full time hours.

Contracted Hours Vs Actual Hours

It is not uncommon for your actual hours to be different from your contracted hours. This is normal as there will be times when other situations interfere with contracted hours. This may result in them being fewer than your contracted hours or, at times, greater.

Some reasons your hours might differ can be due to sickness, holidays, emergencies and working overtime. The hours stipulated in your contract are the minimum you will be paid for each week. However, sometimes your actual hours might be less or more than these.

How (and if) you are paid for any overtime may differ from employer to employer. This should all be detailed within the contract so employees know where they stand.

Some employers may offer days in lieu, whilst others will pay overtime. If your employer pays for extra hours work, you will be entitled to extra holiday pay on overtime. This is a statutory right, and your employer can’t refuse to pay it, any contract clauses saying it will not be paid are not enforceable.

If Your Contracted Hours Are Not Being Met

You know your contracted hours, so what happens if your contracted hours aren’t met? Where do employees stand legally?

You might wonder if you can be paid less than your contracted hours. This will be dependent on the reason for working fewer hours. If your actual hours were lower due to taking some sick days, then how you are paid for those absences will depend on your contract. At the very minimum, your sick pay should match SSP.

Annual leave is generally considered as paid time off so holidays may not affect your pay. Again though, all of this should be set out within your contract or written statement.

What happens when you work less than your contracted hours will depend on the situation, and your contract of employment.

Layoffs and Short Time Working

An employer may not be able to offer their employees the same level of work due to a decrease in customer demand. This could lead to them asking their staff to be laid off for a set period.

If this is expressed within the contract then the employer does not need to pay for this time. However, if there is nothing in the contract about layoffs, they could be breaching their contract.

Employees may be asked to participate in short time working. This involves the employee working fewer hours for an agreed period. The terms of the contract will determine whether the hours not worked will be paid or not.


Working More Than Contracted Hours

Your actual hours worked may be greater than your contracted hours. You should, however, be aware of the rules around overtime as set out in your contract.

Working an increased amount of hours from time to time has the benefit of providing a higher income. In most instances, employers will pay overtime and honour the actual hours worked rather than contracted. This will affect how much tax is taken from your wages so it is important to keep your payslips.

Overtime Entitlements

There is often confusion when it comes to overtime entitlements. This includes how any additional hours will be paid and whether it is at an enhanced rate.

It is important to note that employers do not legally need to pay for any overtime carried out. However, most hourly paid employees will get paid overtime. For salaried workers, things are not always so clear, but many employers do offer Time in Lieu or paid overtime.

This means an enhanced rate is also not something that should be expected. But again, some employers may offer higher overtime pay. This should all be detailed within the employee’s contract.

It’s important to note that any unpaid overtime must not cause employee’s wages to fall below national minimum wage.

Can You be Forced to Work Overtime?

Your contract should say whether overtime is optional or compulsory. When there is nothing in the contract requiring you to work overtime, you can’t be forced to work additional hours without your agreement.

When it is compulsory then this should be very clear within the terms of the contract you have signed with your employer.

Usually, employers will add a clause to say that some overtime may be required to meet the needs of the business. This covers them for any eventualities where they need to ask staff to work extra hours. If it is within the contract then you cannot refuse overtime.

See Also: Refusing to Work Overtime – a guide on UK overtime laws with in depth details on whether employees can be forced to work extra hours.

Can Employers Change Work Contracts?

There may be times when employers negotiate a change to work contracts when demands in the workplace vary. This can be a complicated process if all parties aren’t in agreement.

For an employer to change the terms of an employment contract, they must advise their employees of the changes. Then all parties should read and agree to the new terms. The reasons for changing someone’s contract must be valid. This includes if demand is slow or higher, the business structure is changing or staff changes.

A new contract should be given out and agreed to before any changes begin. When these changes are not consensual by the employee then they can work under protest. This means working under the new terms but following the working in protest protocol.

Any new changes should still meet statutory requirements and not allow wages to fall below the minimum wage.

If your employer tries to change your employment contract, and you don’t wish to agree, you can protect your legal rights by working under protest.

Can Employees Reduce Their Contracted Hours at Work?

Employees may sometimes feel the need to reduce their contracted hours at work. This might be due to family circumstances or other commitments.

When an employee wishes to reduce their hours at work, they should put in a written request. This should include the reasons for requesting this reduction. This can be done informally, or formally via a flexible working request.

This request has to be approved by the employer and if agreed, a new contract should be drawn up.

The Working Time Directive & Contracted Hours

Whenever changes are made to an employee’s contract, employers must ensure the terms are legal. This means they must comply with Working Time Directive regulations.

The law states that employees should not work over 48 hours per week. This is based on an average taken over 17 weeks.

There are certain sectors which are excluded from these regulations but most must adhere to them. If staff wish to opt out of the 48 hour working rules then they can do so. This should be in writing and added to the contract of employment.

See Also: Understanding your contract of employment.


Do contracted hours include breaks?

Breaks are not included in the contracted hours so do not have to be paid. Your contract should specify what breaks you are entitled to.

Are contracted hours weekly?

Contracted hours are the hours you are employed to work every week. This should be written within the employee’s contract or written statement.

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