Working Long Days – What Does the Law Say?

21 June 2017

In England & Wales, there are laws which say how long you’re allowed to work for. If your employer is forcing you to work more hours than is legally allowed, you could raise a grievance. If this doesn’t resolve the issue, you may want to take the matter to an Employment Tribunal.

Maximum Working Hours

According to the law in England and Wales, employees should not work more than 48 hours per week. Employees under the age of 18 should not work more than 40 hours per week.

Working hours are calculated by the average number of hours you’ve worked over a 17 week period. This means that some weeks you might work more than 48 hours, and some weeks you might work less. But overall, the average over a 17 week period should be 48 hours or less.

To work out your average, you need to add up all the hours you’ve spent at work over a period of 17 consecutive weeks. Do not include any lunch breaks, annual leave, maternity/paternity leave, or sick leave that you have taken. You also can’t include time that you’ve spent on work that you’ve taken home of your own volition, or time you’ve spent travelling to and from the workplace.

Once you have added up all the hours you’ve worked, you then need to divide that number by 17. If it’s more than 48 hours, you have exceeded the number of working hours that is legally allowed.

Exceptions to the Rule

There are some exceptions to the 48 hour rule which means that some employees may either be allowed to work more hours, or can be asked to work more hours.

You Want to Work More Hours

You can work more than 48 hours per week if you want to. You need put this request in writing and send it to your employer. If you later want to stop working more than 48 hours per week, you’ll need to give notice. Remember that your employer cannot force you into working more hours, it must be your choice.

You Work at Night

If your working day involves working at least three hours during the night-time, you’ll be considered a ‘night-worker’. Most night-workers aren’t allowed to work for more than 8 hours in any 24 hour period. Again this is averaged out over a 17 week period, so some days you might work more than 8 hours, some days you might work less – but the average should be 8.

You Work in a Certain Job

Certain jobs are not subject to the maximum limits of 48 working hours per week. These include:

  • Junior doctors
  • Drivers of heavy goods vehicles
  • Emergency service workers
  • People in the armed forces
  • Sea-fisherman or people working on vessels at sea/in-land waterways

Working More than 48 Hours per Week?

If you are working more than 48 hours per week and you shouldn’t be, you can raise a grievance with your employer. If your working hours are not subsequently reduced, or your employer starts to treat you less favourably, you might want to take the matter to an Employment Tribunal.

Our Employment Solicitors can help you understand whether you are being forced to work excessive hours, and can advise what action you should take next.

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