AVERAGE WORKING HOURS: As a rule, most UK workers cannot work longer than 48 hours a week – as an average.
That means your working hours will get averaged out over a period of 17 weeks. This is according to a list of employment laws and legislation in the United Kingdom.
Employers call it the ‘Working Time Regulations’ (WTR) or the ‘working time directive’. Even so, many workers choose to work more than the 48 hour work week. They do so by opting out of the standard 48-hour week.
Note: Young workers under the age of 18 cannot opt out of the 48 hour work week. Thus, they cannot work more than eight (8) hours a day or forty (40) hours per week.
Exceptions to 48 Hour Work Week
Workers in certain types of jobs or professions may work more than the 48 hours a week average. Commonplace examples where the working week is not covered by the Working Time Regulations would include:
- Anyone who works as a domestic servant in a private household.
- Jobs that require 24-hour staffing (e.g. security and surveillance).
- People serving in the armed forces, police forces, or the emergency services.
- Seafarers, sea-fishermen, or workers on vessels on inland waterways.
- Situations where working time is not measured and you are in control (e.g. a managing executive with control over their own decisions).
Note: The Acas helpline offers free and confidential guidance. You can contact them to get further advice on the UK maximum weekly working hours.
How to Calculate Average Working Hours Per Week
As a rule, employers use a ‘reference period’ for calculating average working hours. In most cases, the reference period will be seventeen (17) weeks. Thus, workers can work more than 48 hours in any given week providing it averages less than 48 hours a week for the 17 weeks.
Note: Workers under the age of 18 cannot have their working hours averaged out. That means young workers cannot work more than forty (40) hours in any given week.
Reference Periods Exceptions
Not all jobs have the same reference periods. For example:
- Trainee doctors have their working hours averaged out over a 26-week reference period.
- The offshore oil and gas sector use a 52-week reference period to calculate their average working hours.
Calculating Working Hours with Multiple Jobs
As an average, the combined working hours should not be more than 48 hours per week. This rule applies even if you have more than one job or you work for more than one employer.
Having more than one job could mean you work more than 48 hours a week on average. In this happens, you can either reduce your working hours or sign an opt-out agreement to meet the limit.
What Counts as Work for a Working Week
Carrying out your normal job-related duties count as part of a working week. But, it will also include:
- Any time that gets treated as ‘working time’ as stated in an contract.
- On site or off site job-related training.
- Paid overtime and unpaid overtime if you get asked to do it.
- Time spent on call at the workplace.
- Time spent working abroad.
- The time you spend travelling if travel is part of your job (e.g. a travelling sales representative).
- Travel time between home and the workplace at the start and end of the working day (if you do not have a fixed place of work).
- Working lunches (e.g. business lunches).
What Does Not Count as Work for a Working Week
As a rule, the maximum weekly working time would not include:
- Day-release or evening classes.
- Maternity, paternity and adoption leave
- Short rest breaks at work when nothing gets done (e.g. a lunch break).
- Sick leave, unpaid holidays, or paid holiday time.
- Time spent on call away from the workplace.
- Time spent travelling to and from work (if you have a fixed place of work).
- Travelling outside the normal working hours.
- Unpaid overtime that you volunteer for (e.g. working late to finish a work task).
Opting Out of the 48 Hour Work Week
You must be at least 18 years old to work more than 48 hours a week – as an average. Doing so means you would be ‘opting out’ of the Working Time Regulations 48 hour limit.
48 Hour Opt Out Agreement Template Example
I [insert your name here] agree that I may work for more than an average of 48 hours a week. If I change my mind, I will give my employer [insert the amount of time here (which can be up to three (3) months)] notice in writing to end this agreement.
Employers can ask some of their workforce (but not all) to opt out. But, workers cannot get dismissed from work or treated ‘unfairly’ (disadvantaged) if they refuse to accept it.
Note: Workers can either opt out for a certain period of time or without any defined period. Even so, opting out must be voluntary and stated in writing.
Special Worker Types that Cannot Opt Out
There are certain types of workers that cannot opt-out of the 48 hour work week, such as:
- Airline staff.
- Workers on ships or boats.
- Workers in the road transportation industry (e.g. delivery drivers). An exception applies for drivers of vehicles under 3.5 tonnes using GB Domestic drivers’ hours rules).
- Staff who travel in, and operate, vehicles covered by EU rules on drivers’ hours (e.g. bus conductors).
- Security guards who work in a vehicle that carries high-value goods.
How to Cancel an 48 Hour Opt-out Agreement
You need to give your employer advanced notice to cancel your 48 hour opt out agreement. As a rule, the notice period will be at least seven (7) days and up to three (3) months.
Note: The Working Time Regulations do not allow employers to force any of their workforce to cancel their opt-out agreement.