Working hours can vary drastically from one job to another. This variety enables businesses to operate at the times that they need to (in some cases this is 24 hours a day, 7 days a week) and it can also provide flexibility to employees with some employers offering flexible working, shift work or part-time hours.
However, it’s important that the health and welfare of workers is protected with regular rest breaks, a fair holiday allowance and a limit on how many hours they can be expected to work.
Working Time Regulations
This is where the Working Time Regulations 1998 come in. These regulations offer protection to workers in England and Wales around welfare, rest times and working hours. For workers over the age of 18, all employers having to honour the following:
- Not require a worker to work more than 48 hours per week on average (workers can opt out of this in writing if they choose to)
- Offer full-time workers 5.6 weeks of paid annual leave per year (or a pro-rata amount for part time staff)
- Allow workers 11 hours of consecutive rest in any 24 hour period
- Allow workers a 20 minute rest break if they work more than 6 hours in a day
- Allow workers one day off per week
- Limit the working hours of night workers to 8 hours in any 24 hour period
- Offer night workers the opportunity to receive regular health assessments.
These regulations apply to all full time and part time workers. They also apply to most agency workers, contractors and freelancers, although some categories of workers will be excluded.
Working Time Regulations for Young Workers
The rights of young workers (aged 16-17) are slightly different. Under the Working Time Regulations, employers of young workers must:
- Limit their working day to 8 hours, not exceeding 40 hours per week
- Offer workers a 30 minute rest break if they work 4.5 hours or more
- Allow workers 2 consecutive days off per week
- Allow workers 12 hours of consecutive rest in any 24 hour period.
In addition, the laws around night work are different for young workers. Usually workers under the age of 18 aren’t allowed to work at night. There are some exceptions to this rule however, with young workers permitted to work between 10pm - midnight and 4am - 7am in the following industries:
- Retail trading
- Delivery of post or newspapers
- Catering (such as a catering business, a hotel, a pub or a restaurant).
Can My Employer Change My Working Hours?
Your working hours and shift patterns will be set out in the terms of your Contract of Employment. This means that a change to your working hours or to your shift pattern will be a change to the terms of your employment contract and your employer would need to follow the correct protocol for this.
The terms of your employment contract can only be changed if you and your employer both agree to this. If your employer wants to change your working hours then they will need to consult with you on this. Consultation can either be on an individual basis, or if the changes affect a wider group of workers then your employer may carry out a collective consultation with a trade union or employee representatives.
If it is agreed that your working hours will be amended, then your written statement of employment will need to be updated to reflect this change. This will need to be carried out by your employer and the updated version given to you within 1 month of any changes being made.