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Working time - overview
The Working Time Regulations 1998 (WTR) provide basic minimum rights to work a reasonable number of hours and have reasonable rest breaks and holidays. They also include special protections for night workers and young workers who are considered to be at particular risk. However, a large number of people are either wholly or partially excluded.
Eligibility for Working Time rights
The provisions setting out who is covered by the WTR are complicated. Some whole job sectors are totally excluded. Other sectors are partially excluded.
Even if a worker's job type is covered by the WTR, their specific job may be subject to one of the 'special case' exemptions, or be one which is not entitled to the full protection of the regulations because they control their own hours, work unusual shifts or because they are covered by an opt-out under a collective agreement.
For more information, see Eligibility for Working Time rights.
Protected Working Time rights
Those workers covered by the WTR have:
the right to a 48-hour maximum working week
the right to a minimum of 11 hours off in every 24 hour period
the right to 24 hours off in every seven day period, and
the right to a 20-minute break away if they have worked for six hours or more
For further details, see Hours.
There are also important provisions relating to annual leave, in particular:
the right to a minimum of 5.6 weeks' annual leave (28 days if you work a five-day week; pro rata for part-timers) made up of four weeks' basic entitlement plus 1.6 weeks' additional entitlement and
the right to be paid for any annual leave that they were owed but had not taken when their employment terminated
For further details, see Protected Working Time rights, Holiday and the checklist Working time - checklist of employee issues.
Working Time defences and exceptions
Even if types a worker is not in a job which is excluded or partially excluded from the Working Time Regulations, they may fall within one of the protected categories whose work pattern is not covered or whose employer can require them to work in breach of the regulations for a short time.
An employer can also permanently exclude or alter his workers' WTR rights under an effective workforce agreement or collective agreement, in relation to the provisions of the WTR which relate to length of night work, daily rest, weekly rest and rest breaks. Workers cannot opt out of the 48 hour working week via a workforce or collective agreement, although it is possible to extend the calculation period for working out whether they are working more than 48 hours from 17 weeks to a maximum of 52 weeks.
Workers whose working time is unmeasured are excluded from all WTR rights except paid annual leave, rest breaks and health assessments and transfer to day work.
Workers can sometimes be required to work through their rest periods, or to work a longer night shift than they would normally be allowed.
Shift workers are entitled to all rights other than the daily and weekly rest periods where the nature of the shift work is such that they cannot fit the break in between one shift and the next.
Where any of these special case or shiftwork exemptions applies workers must, wherever possible, be given an equivalent period of compensatory rest or, failing that, appropriate protection to safeguard their health and safety.
Mobile workers who do not work in an excluded sector which has its own specific regulations are entitled to adequate rest, being sufficient periods of rest to ensure that they do not injure themselves or others or damage their health.
For more information, see Working Time defences and exceptions.
Remedies for breach of Working Time rights
If an employer does not allow workers their individual rights under the WTR - such as the right to a maximum hourly week and minimum rest and leave periods - they can bring a claim in the employment tribunal for a breach of the regulations. If their claim is successful, the tribunal can make an order for:
Workers cannot bring a claim if their employer fails to comply with its general duties under the WTR (such as record keeping or taking reasonable care to ensure that its workers keep to a 48-hour maximum working week) as these are matters that only the Health and Safety Executive can pursue.
If a worker is dismissed for reasons relating to the WTR, their dismissal will probably be automatically unfair, and they can bring a claim in the employment tribunal for unfair dismissal.
Workers are protected against retaliation by their employer for exercising their rights under the WTR.
If the employer subjects a worker to any detriment at work, they can bring a claim in the employment tribunal and may obtain compensation.
For more details, see Remedies for breach of Working Time rights
Goods and passenger vehicle drivers
Drivers and operators of goods vehicles and passenger vehicles have the protection of some of the provisions of the WTR, and in addition are subject, in relation to daily driving and duty limits, breaks and rest requirements, to either:
UK domestic drivers' hours rules (under the Transport Act 1968 and related regulations), or
EU drivers' hours rules (EC Regulation 561/2006 and the Road Transport (Working Time) Regulations 2005)
Which set of rules (if any) applies depends on the type of driving and the type of vehicle being used.
The EU drivers' hours rules apply irrespective of whether the driver is employed or self-employed. Similarly, the domestic drivers' hours rules apply to both employee drivers and self-employed owner drivers. By contrast, neither the Road Transport (Working Time) Regulations 2005 nor the WTR cover the self-employed.
For further details, see Working time - goods and passenger vehicle drivers.
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