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Spotlight on...Working Time and Rest Breaks

View profile for Chloe Pereira
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The Working Times Regulations 1998 (WTR) were introduced as a means of governing the general amount of hours that workers perform over specific time periods, and the ways in which rest periods and general holidays are provided for them, they implement the European Working Time Directive into UK law. (See our earlier article on the future of EU derived law).

Under the WTR, the following applies:

Workers’ weekly working time must not exceed 48 hours per week on average. This average is calculated over 17 weeks, any annual leave (or sickness, maternity, paternity, parental or adoption leave,) included as working hours.

  • A worker may sign an opt-out of the maximum 48 hour working week. However, they can’t be forced to opt-out or subjected to victimisation for not opting-out and, even if they do opt-out, they can cancel this on 7 days’ notice (or up to three months’ notice if the opt-out agreement provides for that).

Rest-periods - It is a key responsibility of the employer to allow workers to take adequate rest periods. As a starting point, the WTR generally allows workers the following:

  • Daily rest period of 11 hours uninterrupted rest per day
  • Weekly rest of 24 hours uninterrupted rest per week, or 48 hours per fortnight (which of the two is afforded is at the discretion of the employer).
  • 20 minutes break when working more than 6 hours in a day

Further key points regarding rest periods:

  • Employers must actively ensure that an atmosphere is created where the minimum rest period is observed, and ensure that breaks are scheduled as part of the organisation of working time.
  • Workers must not feel under pressure not to take their breaks, either due to pressure from their employer to achieve certain targets, or by other workers note taking their breaks and pressurising others to do the same.
  • Workers carrying out monotonous work, such as on a production line are given special protection, in such cases the employer must make sure the workers are given adequate rest breaks, this may involve giving the worker further short breaks in addition to the usual daily and weekly rest periods and rest breaks.
  • Where a worker has been required to work during a period that would otherwise be a rest period, for example a shift worker changing from day to night work, the employer should, wherever possible allow the worker to take an equivalent period of compensatory rest.
  • It is key that employers keep and maintain records showing whether the limits on average working time, night work and provision of health and safety records are being complied with in the case of each worker.