Working hours

Disclaimer:  While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in the Pink Book, we regret that we cannot be responsible for any errors. The Pink Book contains general information about laws applicable to your business. The information is not advice, and should not be treated as such. Read our full disclaimer.

Key facts

  • The Working Time Regulations 1998 (as amended) apply to all businesses that have employees.
  • You must take reasonable steps to ensure that employees do not work more than an average of 48 hours a week (excluding lunch breaks).
  • Employees are entitled to 5.6 weeks' paid leave a year and rest periods of a specified length in each working day and in each seven day period.
  • You need to keep sufficient records to show that you are complying with the regulations.

Working time regulations

Are the regulations relevant to me?

The Working Time Regulations 1998 (as amended) apply to any business that has employees, however small.

What employees are covered by the regulations?

Anyone who is working for you including trainees and young workers (those aged 16 and 17), but excluding the genuinely self-employed.

What are the requirements?

Working time 

  • You are responsible for taking reasonable steps to ensure that employees do not work more than an average of 48 hours a week, excluding lunch breaks. (The number of hours worked each week should be averaged out over 17 weeks).
  • Employees can choose to work longer, but the agreement must be in writing and signed by the worker. This is known as a Working Time Regulations Opt-Out Agreement.
  • Young workers may not ordinarily work more than eight hours a day or 40 hours a week. There is no opt-out possible from the young workers’ limitations.

Night-time workers

You are also responsible for taking reasonable steps to ensure that any night workers do not work on average more than eight hours in 24. There is no opt-out from the night work limits. Night workers are those who normally work at least three hours between 23:00 and 06:00.

  • You must offer a free health assessment to a night worker before they start working nights and on a regular basis to ensure they are fit for night work.
  • Young workers may not ordinarily work between 22:00 and 07:00.
  • However, they may work between 22:00 and 0:00 and between 04:00 and 07:00 in certain special circumstances (e.g. working in a hotel, restaurant or pub, in catering and in retail).

Child Employment

There are separate restrictions for employing children under the age of 16. These restrictions mean that children cannot be employed:

  • before 07:00 or after 19:00
  • during school hours
  • for more than an hour before school
  • in any job harmful to their health or wellbeing
  • for more than four hours without a one hour break
  • without having a two week break from any work during the school holidays in each calendar year.

    There are also restrictions on the length of time that children can work during term time and during holiday periods. There may also be local authority restrictions on employing children in your area. More information on employing children is available on the restrictions on child employment pages on the website

See Employing Under 18s section for more information.

Paid annual leave

Employees, whether full-time or part-time, are entitled to 5.6 weeks’ paid leave a year, starting on the first day of employment. A 'week’s leave' is the equivalent of the time normally worked in a week. This should be applied pro-rata for part-time employees. For example, if a worker normally works five days a week, 5.6 weeks’ paid leave equates to 28 working days a year and for a Saturday worker, this equates to 5.6 days a year.

You must set out an employee's paid holiday entitlement in their ‘written statement of employment’. This should enable them to work out their entitlement and pay for any untaken holiday if they leave.

Note: the holiday entitlement can include bank holidays, provided that you pay them for those days.

Calculating holiday pay for employees without fixed hours

A recent court case has determined that where a member of staff has not worked during a particular week, that week does not form part of the 52 week reference period that is used to calculate their holiday pay. It is worth noting that the reference period for calculating holiday pay increased from 12 weeks to 52 weeks in April 2020, which some businesses may have missed with the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

For example:

  • If a person has been working for over 52 weeks, but in 10 of those weeks they did no hours, rather than calculating their average weekly pay by dividing the total earnings over the last year by 52, the employer would exclude the 10 weeks that they had no earnings and replace them with the 10 weeks they had earnings immediately prior to the start of the 52 week reference period.
  • If a person has received earnings for less than 52 weeks in total over the last two years, then their holiday pay is calculated based on their total earnings over the past two year period divided by the number of weeks they received pay.

Detailed guidance on calculating holiday pay is available on the Calculating holiday pay for workers without fixed hours or pay page on the website.

Rolled-up Holiday Pay

Rolled-up Holiday Pay is where businesses pay employees an additional amount on top of their normal wages over the course of the year as holiday pay instead of paying it as a lump sum when the holiday is taken. ACAS advice is that this practice is not legal.

Further information, including a template for a ‘written statement of employment’ is available on the ACAS website.

Rest periods

Employees have the right to:

  • at least a 20-minute break if they will work longer than six hours. However, organisations often allow longer and/or more frequent breaks
  • not work on average more than 48 hours per week. Individuals may choose to work longer by 'opting out' (see below)
  • 11 consecutive hours' rest in any 24 hour period
  • one day off each week or two consecutive days off in a fortnight
  • a limit on the normal working hours of an average eight hours in any 24 hours period
  • young workers are entitled to 12 hours' rest for each working day and two day's rest for every seven-day period.

Special circumstances

For night workers' rest periods and in-work rest breaks there are exceptions to the regulations, e.g. during busy peak periods, but workers must normally be given equivalent rest periods in compensation.


You need to keep sufficient records in each case to show that you are complying with the regulations.