Work hours, working week, overtime, rest breaks, holidays

The rules about the hours you are expected to work are established in the European Working Time Directive.

The directive’s guidelines are:



·      You should work a maximum of 48 hours in an average working week

·      You are entitled to a break of at least 20 minutes if you are working more than 6 hours a day

·      You are entitled to 11 consecutive hours off in every 24 hours

·      You are entitled to 24 continuous hours off in every 7 days

·      If you work night shifts, you should work on average a maximum of 8 hours in every 24 hours


Working hours include:

·      Overtime

·      Time spent travelling to see clients or having work lunches

·      Training

·      Time when you’re on call at work

They don’t include:

·      Travelling to and from work and home

·      Breaks while at work

·      Training away from work

 All workers are covered by the regulations, including part-time, casual, freelance and agency staff.

You will not be covered by those regulations:

·      if you opt out of working time limits

·      if, because of the nature of your job, your working time is not measured or predetermined and you can decide yourself when to do your work and how long you work (e.g. senior managers)


Working Week

You cannot be required to work more than 48 hours a week, averaged over 17 weeks, unless you have agreed in writing that you are willing to do so.

There are exemptions if you work in a sector with its own rules:

·      security or surveillance work

·      jobs that require round-the-clock staffing

·      air, road, or sea transport

·      inland waterways and lakes transport

·      some employees working in rail transport

·      sea fishing

·      armed forces, emergency services and police – in some circumstances

·      domestic servant in private houses

The regulations do not cover:

       exceptionally busy periods


 In all these cases your work hours will be averaged over 26 weeks, rather than 17 weeks.

You are, however, entitled to accumulate your rest periods and take them at a later date. This is called compensatory rest.

Your normal working hours should be set out in your employment contract or written statement of employment particulars.

Opting to work more

If you are 18 or over, you can opt out of the 48-hour maximum, but this must be voluntary and in writing.

You can’t be forced to opt out by your employer and you shouldn't be sacked or treated less favourably (for example refused promotion or overtime) for refusing to sign an opt-out or you can take a claim to an Employment tribunal.

You can cancel your opt-out agreement whenever you want – even if it is part of your employment contract. However, you must give your employer at least 7 days notice. This could be longer (up to 3 months) if you previously agreed this in writing with your employer.



Overtime generally means any work over the basic working hours included in your contract.

Your contract of employment should include the conditions for working overtime, details of overtime pay rates and how they are worked out.

You only have to work overtime if your contract says so. Even if it does, you can't usually be forced to work more than an average of 48 hours per week. If you are told to work more than this and you don't want to, you can take a claim to an Employment tribunal.

There's no legal right to pay for working extra hours, and the law are no minimum statutory levels of overtime pay, although your average pay rate must not fall below the National Minimum Wage.

Overtime rates vary from employer to employer, some will pay extra for working weekends or Bank Holidays, and others won't.

Instead of paying for overtime, some employers offer 'time off in lieu' (TOIL). This is agreed between you and your employer, and any time you take off will normally be at a time that suits the employer.


Rest breaks

As an adult worker (over 18), you will are entitled to a 20-minute rest break if your working day or shift is more than 6 hours long.

Workers aged 16 and 17 are entitled to take at least 30 minutes' break if their shift lasts more than 4.5 hours.

A lunch or coffee break can count as your rest break. Additional breaks might be given by your contract of employment. There is no statutory right to 'smoking breaks'.

The requirements are:

·      the break must be in one block

·      it cannot be taken off one end of the working day – it must be somewhere in the middle

·      you are allowed to spend it away from the place on your employer's premises where you work 

·      your employer can say when the break must be taken, as long as it meets these conditions


Daily Rest

Daily rest is the break between the end of one day's work and the start of the next (usually night-time).

If you are an adult worker you are entitled to a minimum of 11 consecutive hours off between each working day.

Exceptions can be made for:

·      busy periods

·      emergencies

·      people working away from home

In these cases, rest periods can be accumulated and taken later.


Weekly rest

Weekly rest are whole days when you don't come into work (for many people this will be the weekend).

If you are an adult worker, in addition to any holiday entitlement, you have the right to either:

  • 24 continuous hours off in every 7 days
  • 48 continuous hours off in every 14 days

Your weekly rest doesn’t need to be the same day each week.

If you are religious, the law does not entitle you to a set day of the week off (e.g. Sunday, if you are a Christian) for religious observance, but you can speak to your employer and explain how important it is to you to have that day off to practise your religion. Employers will usually try to accommodate such requests

Night working

If any of your workers do night work – even casual, freelance and agency workers – there are special regulations you must comply with.

The regulations define night time as the period between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m., (this can vary by mutual agreement between you and your employer).

 A night worker is someone who regularly works for at least 3 hours during this period.

In general, night workers:

·      should not work more than an average of 8 hours in a 24-hour period, averaged over 17 weeks or in some cases a 26-week period

·      can't opt out from this limit unless it is allowed for by a collective workforce agreement

·      must be offered a free health assessment before you start working nights and on a regular basis after that


For workers dealing with special hazards or under mental and physical strain, there can be no averaging at all: the 8-hour daily limit is absolute.

In general, workers under 18 are not permitted to work at night.

Mobile workers are excluded from the night-time-working limits. Instead, they are entitled to 'adequate rest'.



Your written statement of employment must contain information on your right to holidays, including public holidays and holiday pay.

You are entitled to a minimum length of paid annual leave, however, there is no statutory entitlement to paid leave on bank and public holidays.

Your contract could, however, entitle you to a more generous holiday scheme.

Paid annual leave

You are entitled to a minimum of 5.6 weeks’– 28 days – paid annual leave (‘statutory holiday’) if you work 5 days a week or more.

These figures are to be applied pro rata for part-time workers.

However, but you may be entitled to a more generous scheme by contract.

To work out how many days’ holiday you can take a year, you need to multiply 5.6 by the number of days you work in a week.

During your annual leave, you get paid your normal rate of pay.

Your employer is not allowed to give pay in lieu of statutory holiday. However, pay in lieu of holiday may be paid for untaken holiday in excess of the statutory minimum 5.6 weeks per year.

You start building up your holiday entitlement as soon as you start your job; you will have built it up at the end of your first holiday year (as defined in your contract).

You must give your employer advance notice that you want to take holiday. This notice should be at least twice as long as the amount of holiday you want to take. For example, you should give 2 weeks' notice for 1 week's holiday.

Your employer can refuse permission for your holiday as long as they give you notice which is at least as long as the holiday requested. So to refuse a request for a week's leave, they would have to tell you a week in advance.

If you want to take time off for certain religious festivals and are refused, you may have arguments to make a claim for discrimination on religious grounds.

Your employer can tell you to take your holiday at special times when the workplace is closed (holiday season) or that you can’t take holiday at particularly busy times.

Your employer has to make it possible for you to take all your leave, but he doesn’t have to make you take it. If you don’t take all your leave within your holiday year, your employer doesn’t have to let you carry forward the unused days over into the next holiday year or pay you for them. If you don’t use it, you could lose it!

The terms for holiday carry overs should be laid out in your contract of employment.

If you become ill during your holiday or just before you were due to take it, you can ask to convert the period of holiday concerned to sick leave and ask to take the missed annual leave at a later date.

You may be unable to take all of your holiday entitlement within your leave year because of illness, you are entitled to carry forward the entitlement you would otherwise lose to the next year.

When you finish a job, you get paid for any holiday you have not taken.

You continue to be entitled to your holiday leave throughout your ordinary and additional maternity leave and paternity and adoption leave.


Bank and Public Holidays

Any right to time off or extra pay for working on a bank holiday depends on the terms of your contract of employment.

You do not have an automatic right to take bank or public holidays off work, with or without pay.

Your employment contract may give you bank or public holidays off on top of your statutory holiday, but this could also count towards your minimum holiday entitlement.

If you work on a bank or public holiday, there is no automatic right to an enhanced pay rate.

There are 8 permanent bank and public holidays in England and Wales; 9 in Scotland; 10 in Northern Ireland.

If you are part time and your employer gives workers additional time off on bank holidays, this should be given pro rata to you as well, even if the bank holiday does not fall on your usual workday.

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