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Working Time Regulations

Businesses will frequently want to control when staff members work. However, working patterns must accord with the Working Time Regulations 1998 (“WTR”).

The WTR set out a series of minimum requirements with which businesses must comply. Our experts help you understand what the WTR mean for you and navigate your way through what can often be a complicated area.

Working Time Regulations

The WTR govern “working time” in the UK. Their main purpose is to protect workers’ health and safety by ensuring that workers are able to rest. The WTR stipulate workers’ entitlements to daily rest, weekly rest and holiday and holiday pay. They are wide in scope, applying to employees as well as the much broader category of “workers”.

Working Time

When considering the WTR rules on the average maximum working week, night working, rest periods and rest breaks it is important to first understand what amounts to “working time”. The WTR define working time as;

  • time when a worker is working at the employer’s disposal and carrying out his or her activities and duties;
  • time when a worker is receiving training, for example in house training; and
  • any additional time which is covered by a “relevant agreement”, such as a trade union agreement.

This definition creates odd quirks and time spent on standby or on-call can, in some circumstances, be counted as working time even if the worker is not actually called upon to do any work. Paid and unpaid overtime and travel time (where travel is part of the job) may also be working time.

In general, a worker’s average working time (usually considered over a 17 week period) must not exceed 48 hours per week unless an exemption applies. An exemption may apply where the worker’s role is within a particular sector (such as mobile maritime or aviation workers) or where the worker has validly opted out of the 48 hour per week limit. A worker cannot be forced to opt out nor can they be treated detrimentally for refusing to opt out. Where a worker does, validly, opt out they are able to change their mind and opt back in, providing they give the appropriate period of notice (which should be set out in any opt out agreement).

Rest Breaks and Rest Periods

Workers are entitled to the following rest periods unless they are exempt in which case compensatory rest will usually have to be given.

  • 11 hours’ uninterrupted rest per day;
  • 24 hours’ uninterrupted rest per week (or 48 hours’ uninterrupted rest per fortnight); and
  • a rest break of 20 minutes, to be spent away from the person’s work station, when working more than six hours per day.

The WTR provide some flexibility as to when rest periods and breaks can take place but they cannot overlap meaning that whilst the 11 hours uninterrupted daily rest period and the 24 or 48 hour weekly or fortnightly rest periods can take place immediately after one another, they cannot be counted as running concurrently.

Workers carrying out monotonous tasks are additionally entitled to receive adequate rest breaks, though the WTR are silent on the length of such breaks.

The WTR set out specific rights for night workers and a night worker should not work, on average, more than eight hours per day. Where the work undertaken involves special hazards or heavy physical or mental strain, the worker must not work more than eight hours per day.

Annual Leave & Pay                     

The WTR also set out workers’ rights to annual leave and pay. Subject to certain exclusions, all workers are entitled to a minimum of 5.6 weeks’ paid leave in each holiday year subject to a cap of 28 days. Many organisations will enhance this minimum entitlement and give workers the right to take more than 28 days’ paid holiday per year.

Workers are entitled to receive a week’s pay in respect of each week of annual leave to which he or she is entitled under the WTR and the way in which this is calculated will depend on whether the worker has “normal working hours”. For more information see our pages on holiday and holiday pay.


If an organisation fails to comply with the WTR, workers can take the matter to an Employment Tribunal. In certain circumstances enforcement action can also be taken by the Health and Safety Executive or local authorities in respect of limits on average weekly working time, night work and the provision of adequate breaks for those carrying out monotonous tasks. Organisations may be prosecuted for breaching certain provisions in the WTR.


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