The Working Time Directive explained
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What is the Working Time Directive?

The Working Time Directive (WTD) is a piece of legislation introduced by the European Union in 1993. Its purpose is to ensure individuals don’t work too many hours in the interests of their health and safety.

The WTD was brought into UK law as the Working Time Regulations in 1998. This means all workers in the UK have the right to a limitation on their working hours, as well as to periods of rest and paid annual leave.

As an employer, it’s your responsibility to implement these rulings within your business and ensure the safety of your workers is protected.

The Working Time Directive purpose

The Working Time Directive was introduced for two reasons:

1. Health and Safety

The WTD aims to keep individuals safe in the workplace.

Working for long periods of time without enough breaks or rest periods leads to tiredness, which in turn could lead to accidents or injuries.

If a worker suffers an injury as a result of being overworked, this will reflect badly on you as an employer and will likely result in a tribunal claim.

2. Maintaining a healthy work/life balance

When workers can balance their time at work with time to rest, see their family and friends and pursue their interests, it will result in a happier workforce. This in turn will mean individuals are more eager to work effectively and efficiently, and to a higher standard.

This benefits you as an employer as it’ll help you to save time, money and stress, while maintaining a positive and supportive company culture.

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Working Time Regulations: The key points

The essential takeaways from the Working Time Regulations are:

  • An individual can’t work more than 48 hours a week, which is averaged out over 17 weeks. For workers under 18, the maximum is 8 hours a day or 40 hours a week.
  • Workers are entitled to a break of 20 minutes if they’re working for longer than six hours. However, most businesses often choose to give their staff longer and/or more frequent breaks.
  • Each worker gets 11 hours of rest each 24 hours or between working days.
  • Individuals are entitled to one day off each week or two consecutive days off in a fortnight.
  • A worker is allowed at least 5.6 weeks of annual leave per year (28 days for full-time employees).
  • For night workers, there is a limit on the normal working hours to an average of eight hours in any 24-hour period.

Exceptions to the rules

Workers over the age of 18 have the right to work more than 48 hours a week if they choose to, by signing an opt-out agreement. However, it is illegal for employers to force their staff to sign this agreement, and the worker shouldn’t receive any negative treatment as a result of them refusing to do so.

There are certain groups of individuals who do not have to comply with the Working Time Directive. For example, those in the armed services, emergency services or in security may have longer hours or different work patterns.

Working Time Regulations and holidays

It’s important to remember that it’s not just employees who are entitled to the statutory amount of annual leave. Zero hours contract workers can also take a pro-rata amount of holidays based on the number of hours they work.

So the amount of 5.6 weeks’ holiday is still appropriate – it just means that if a worker does ten hours a week, they’ll be entitled to 56 hours of annual leave.

Tips for employers

It’s vital that you detail an individual’s normal hours of work, length and frequency of breaks and annual leave allowance within their employment contract. This will ensure that both parties know when the worker is expected to work and will be evidence that you are following the Working Time Regulations.

The general rule is that for workers who haven’t opted out, employers must keep “adequate records” of their working hours to show they’re complying with the 48-hour limit.

However, in May 2019 the European Court of Justice called the current requirements of record-keeping into question. As a result, it’s best practice to keep more detailed data about the hours worked by your staff.

Working Time Directive and Brexit

Since the Working Time Directive is an EU law that has been implemented in UK legislation, there is some uncertainty around how the law will be affected post-Brexit. It’s probable that there will at least be no short-term changes, so for now be sure to follow the Working Time Regulations as they stand. We’ll update you if anything changes.

Our HR software can help you to keep track of the hours your employees work, ensuring that you’re always complying with the Working Time Directive.

Get in touch on or give us a call on 0333 014 3888 to find out more about our easy to use HR Software.

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The content of this blog is for general information only. Please don’t rely on it as legal or other professional advice as that is not what we intend. You can find more detail on this in our Terms of Website Use. If you require professional advice, please get in touch.

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