6.4 Working time

Workers cannot be required to work in excess of 48 hours per week on average. However, this is something which is not regularly enforced in the UK, for a number of reasons. Firstly, workers can choose to opt out of the limit by giving written consent to their employer, although they are able to change their minds and opt back in if they wish, giving no more than three months’ written notice. Secondly, the employer can agree to vary the reference period during which the average is calculated (the default is 17 weeks). Thirdly, some professions are exempt, as are some positions at senior levels where the individual is expected to manage their own time. Since the provision emanates from European health and safety law, the future position of the UK’s opt-out, which is unusual within the EU, is unclear.

If a worker has more than one job, the 48-hour weekly limit applies to the total amount of work performed, and not to any one role.

UK law also restricts the amount of night work that can be performed, provides for health assessments to be carried out by the employer for night workers, and imposes the obligation to give daily and weekly rest periods as well as breaks during the working day.