Law guide: Workplace

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The rights set out in this section apply to workers (individuals contracted to provide work or services on a full-time, part-time or fixed-term basis). This includes employees, but not self-employed staff. For more information, see Employees, workers and the self-employed.


Overtime generally means any work over the basic working hours included in your contract. Regulations say that most workers can't be made to work more than an average of 48 hours a week, but they can agree to work longer. This agreement must be in writing and signed by you.

Overtime pay

There's no legal right to pay for working extra hours, and there are no minimum statutory levels of overtime pay, although your average pay rate must not fall below the minimum wage. Your contract of employment should include details of overtime pay rates and how they're worked out.

Overtime rates vary from employer to employer, some will pay extra for working weekends or Bank Holidays, and others won't.

Time off instead of pay for working overtime

Instead of paying for overtime, some employers offer 'time off in lieu' (TOIL). This is agreed between you and your employer, and any time you take off will normally be at a time that suits the employer. Some companies have rules on when time off can be taken, but others arrange time off on a case by case basis.

Overtime and payment for time off

Overtime isn't usually taken into account when working out paid maternity, paternity or adoption leave. However, it is taken into account for holiday pay when the overtime is guaranteed (required) as part of your contract of employment.

Can you be forced to work overtime, or stopped from doing so?

Your contract of employment should include the conditions for working overtime. You only have to work overtime if your contract says so. Even if it does you can't usually be forced to work more than an average of 48 hours per week. If you're told to work more than this and you don't want to, you should first take it up with your employer.

Unless your contract guarantees you overtime your employer can stop you working it. But your employer mustn't discriminate against you, or bully you, by letting others work overtime but stopping you from doing so.

Your contract of employment should say what your normal working hours and days are, and this may include or exclude working on Sundays. Whether this counts as overtime working depends on your contract of employment. Workers in betting premises and in retail shops can choose to opt out of working on a Sunday.

Overtime for part-time workers

Unless it says differently in their contract of employment, employers will usually only pay overtime to part-time workers when they work:

  • Longer hours than are included in their contract (although sometimes they might just get their normal rate)
  • More than the normal working hours of full-time staff (when they must receive extra payments if full-time staff receive them)
  • Unsocial hours for which a full-time employee would get more pay

It is a legal requirement that part-time workers must not be treated less favourably than full-time staff.

Changes to patterns of work

Your employer may need to change your conditions or patterns of work because of business or economic factors. However, your contract of employment can only be changed if both you and your employer agree to this. It's a breach of contract to change your working conditions without your agreement.

Finding out more about how your overtime is managed

Firstly, check your contract of employment for details of how overtime is worked out and what the rates of pay should be. Remember that your employer must by law give you written terms and conditions. In England, Wales and Scotland, your employer must give you this by the time you start working for them. In Northern Ireland, it must be given to you within 2 months of starting work.

What to do next

If anything isn't clear, you should take up the problem with your employer. You might find it helpful to ask an employee representative, such as a trade union official, to help you. You should also look at the papers you were given when you started work, such as the written statement of terms, and an employee's handbook if one was provided.

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