Law guide: Employment

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What is 'working time'?

What is 'working time'?

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Working time

The Working Time Regulations (the Regulations) implement the European Working Time Directive and parts of the Young Workers' Directive which relate to the working time of adolescent workers (workers aged 16 or 17).

The meaning of working time

In terms of the Regulations, 'working time' means:

  • Any period during which your worker works at your disposal and carries out their activities or duties
  • Any period during which your worker is receiving 'relevant training'
  • Any additional period which is to be treated as working time under a relevant agreement

In broad terms, working time includes travelling if part of the job, working lunches and job-related training. It does not include travelling between home and work, lunch breaks, evening classes or day-release courses.

On-call time will probably be working time when a worker is required to be at or remain close to their place of work. Workers who are on-call at a place where they are required to remain by their employer are likely to be regarded as 'working', even though they may be sleeping or resting, or pursuing other activities during that period. The extent to which they are actually called out will not determine the issue of whether or not they are 'working' for the purposes of the protections afforded under the Regulations.

Application of the Regulations

All workers are covered by the Regulations, including part-time, casual, freelance and agency staff. Exceptions include:

  • Sectors that are subject to different rules – see section on special cases below
  • Certain circumstances in which agreements to vary or opt out of working-time limits and other requirements are permitted by law

Workers who can generally decide how long they work because of the nature of their job are also exempt. The Regulations state that a worker falls into this category if 'on account of the specific characteristics of the activity in which he is engaged, the duration of his working time is not measured or predetermined, or can be determined by the worker himself'.

Employers need to consider whether a worker falls into this category. Those who can decide when to do their work and how long they work, such as senior managers, are likely to be in this category. Those without this freedom to choose are not.

Workers in this category may have an element of their working time measured or pre-determined, but otherwise decide how long they actually work.

This exception would not apply to workers:

  • Paid hourly and those claiming paid overtime
  • Working under close supervision
  • Who are implicitly required to work – e.g. because of output requirements to be achieved in a specified period

Special cases

Special rules apply to Sunday and night-workers.

See Sunday workers guidance for England and Wales and Northern Ireland, and night workers guidance.

There are exceptions to the Working Time Regulations if your workers:

  • Work a long way from where they live
  • Have to travel to different places for work

There are also exceptions to cover:

  • Security or surveillance work
  • Jobs that require round-the-clock staffing
  • Some employees working in rail transport
  • Exceptionally busy periods
  • Emergencies

In all these cases you should average workers' hours over 26 weeks, rather than 17 weeks, to find their average working week. They are entitled to accumulate their rest periods and take them at a later date. This is called compensatory rest.

In addition, your workers may be covered by other working time legislation if your business is in one of the following sectors:

  • Air, road, or sea transport
  • Inland waterways and lakes
  • Sea fishing

The Road Transport (Working Time) Regulations affect all mobile workers (except the self-employed). Under these regulations mobile workers must not exceed:

  • An average of 48 hours per week
  • 60 hours in any single week
  • Ten hours in any 24-hour period, if working at night

Mobile workers are not permitted to opt-out of the average weekly working limit. However, they may agree - by collective or workforce agreement - to extend the reference period from 17 to 26 weeks and the amount of night work that can be worked. You can find further information on the Road Transport (Working Time) Regulations in this leaflet.