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Working Time Regulations

What are the Working Time Regulations?

The Working Time Regulations 1998 came into force on 1 October 1998 and have been amended in part by the Working Time Regulations 1999 and the Working Time (Amendment) Regulations 2003.

The Regulations implement the European Working Time Directive into UK law.

They are primarily Health and Safety Legislation and are intended to protect workers from the risks that arise out of working excessively long hours or for long periods without breaks.

The Regulations provide that all workers should be entitled to:

  • A maximum average working week (inclusive of overtime) of not more than 48 hours, where the Worker has not opted out of the 48 hour working week limit (the averaging period to be 17 weeks or longer in some cases) (an absolute maximum of 40 hours a week in the case of young workers and a maximum working day of 8 hours in the case of young workers except where required for continuity of service or a surge in demand, or where no adult worker is available, or where it would not adversely affect a young workers education or training)
  • A 20 minute rest break where the working day is longer than 6 hours (30 minutes rest in the case of young workers where the working day is longer than 4 ½ hours);
  • A minimum daily rest period of 11 consecutive hours in each 24 hour period (12 hours rest in the case of young workers);
  • A minimum of 24 hours rest every 7 days (or 48 hours every 14 days) (48 hours rest in every 7 days in the case of young workers);
  • A restriction of 8 hours night work in every 24 hour period, the restriction of 8 hours to be averaged except where the work involves special hazards or heavy physical or mental strain in which case it can never exceed 8 hours; and
  • Free Health Assessments (and capacities assessments in the case of young workers) prior to workers being assigned to night work and at regular intervals thereafter;
  • 5.6 weeks’ paid annual leave - apart from the excluded sectors no opting out of the annual leave provisions, no carrying over of holiday from one annual leave year to the next and no payments in lieu except on “termination of engagement”;
  • Protection through the Employment Tribunals from suffering detrimental treatment or dismissal by the employer for taking entitlements under the Regulations.


*Young workers are workers who have reached the age of 15 but not yet attained the age of 18.

What is the Weekly Limit on Working Time?

The maximum average working week of any worker should not exceed 48 hours unless the worker agrees in writing to work over that limit.

Are Workers Entitled to Work Longer than this if they choose to Opt-Out of the Regulations?

Yes, however if an Agency Worker wishes to work in excess of 48 hours per week, they will be required to sign an Opt-Out Agreement Form prior to working more than 48 hours per week.

Rest Breaks – What Are Workers Entitled to?

Where a worker works longer than 6 hours there should be an uninterrupted rest break of 20 minutes, preferably away from that worker’s workstation.

For young workers (those who between the ages of 15 and 18) they should be given 30 minutes if working more than 4.5 hours.

Every worker should also have a minimum daily rest period of 11 consecutive hours in every 24-hour period (12 hours for young workers).

In addition there must be either one break of 24 hours in every seven days or one break of 48 hours in every 14 days (48 hours every 7 days for young workers).

Each week there should therefore be a break of 11 hours plus a break of a total 24 hours making a minimum uninterrupted break of 35 hours unless objective technical or work organisation conditions would justify the daily rest period being incorporated into the weekly rest period.

In the case of monotonous work the worker is entitled to adequate rest breaks. These terms are not defined and common sense therefore applies. However an example might be a data input worker who is likely, due to the monotonous nature of the task, to require shorter and more frequent breaks than other workers.

Who Do the Regulations Apply To?

The Regulations apply to all workers except for those who are specifically excluded from certain parts of the Regulations.

The definition of “worker” includes those who work under a Contract of Employment and all other individuals who personally provide services for the ‘employer’ (except for those individuals who are genuinely in business on their own account i.e. self-employed, and who have a client or customer relationship with the ‘employer’).

This definition therefore includes PAYE Agency Workers working through Employment Businesses as well as employees. Employment businesses are therefore “employers” for the purposes of the Working Time Regulations and are directly responsible to their Agency Workers under the provisions of the Regulations.

It is Recruitment & Employment Confederation’s view that Limited Company Contractors do not fall within the definition of “worker” and are therefore outside the Regulations’ scope. However, as the Regulations are a Health and Safety measure and just as the Inland Revenue takes a case by case view of Limited Company contractors for tax purposes, it is possible that the Health and Safety Executive would follow a similar course if an individual would be an employee ‘but for’ their limited company.

Who Is Excluded from the Regulations?

The following workers are excluded from all the Regulations:

  • Workers covered by the “seafarers” Directive;
  • Workers on board a sea-going fishing vessel;
  • Workers on board a ship or hovercraft, which transfers passengers or goods on inland waterway or lake transport.

In addition to the above, certain groups of workers are excluded from specific sections of the Regulations.