Working Time

The Working Time Regulations set out various rights for employees specifically relating to the number of hours employees are permitted to work by law and the rest breaks to which they are entitled.

Working Hours

The Regulations set out that an employee aged over 18 is not permitted to work more than an average of 48 hours per week, unless they sign a formal agreement to ‘opt out’ of this restriction. The 48 hour limit is calculated as an average over 17 rolling weeks, so it is possible to have employees work more than 48 hours in one week as long as they work fewer in subsequent weeks.

An ‘opt out’ agreement needs to be confirmed in writing and is a standard form most employees sign upon commencing employment. All employees can ‘opt in’ to the 48 hour week again by serving notice on their employer, often giving three months notice of their desire to opt in. Employees have protection from less favourable treatment and dismissal for opting back into the 48 hour week or refusing to opt out in the first place.


As well as the restriction on working hours employees are also entitled to certain minimum rest breaks;

  1. A 20 minute rest break where they work shifts longer than six hours
  2. A period of daily rest of 11 hours between shifts which can be at night time
  3. A break of 24 hours each week which can be on a weekend

The rest breaks should be uninterrupted. They are also mutually exclusive such that you cannot overlap periods of rest. 

It is though sometimes possible to offer ‘compensatory rest’, for example if you cannot grant a 24 hour rest break one week you can offer a 48 hour rest break the next week. The compensatory rest must though be as soon as reasonably practicable after the missed period of rest.


In addition to their rest breaks employees are also entitled to a minimum entitlement of 5.6 weeks annual leave. This amount may include bank holidays. For workers this equates to (all entitlements are rounded up to the nearest half day);

                5 days per week = 28 days

                4 days per week = 22.5 days

                3 days per week = 17 days

                2 days per week = 11.5 days

                1 day per week = 6 days

Employees do not have any entitlement to take their holiday entitlement on any specific day and can only take holiday with their employer’s agreement. Employers can also insist on employees taking specific days as holiday if they wish.  Employers must not however exercise their discretion when rejecting holiday or specifying certain days as holiday in such a way that the employee cannot take their annual entitlement.

For any period of holiday employees are entitled to receive their ‘normal pay’. For salaried employees this can be relatively straight forward but for those who receive allowances, commissions or bonuses based on certain workplace behaviours this can be quite challenging and there have been many cases deciding what is or is not ‘normal pay’.

How can we help you?

The Working Time Regulations can be tricky for employers to navigate as they add numerous legal rights which can often be difficult to interpret. If you have any queries relating to your employee’s working hours, entitlement to rest breaks or holiday, please contact our specialist Employment Law Team.