Understanding the contracted hours of your employees can be difficult. As an employee, it can be even trickier to figure out the number of hours you should be working. With shift patterns changing and over time adding to the hours worked, knowing what your contract says you must work can be difficult.

But never fear. In this guide, we will explain exactly what it means, as well as how they compare to actual worked hours. Let’s get started.

What is the meaning of contracted hours in the UK?

In simple terms, the contracted hours of an employee are the hours that they must work each week. From an employer’s perspective, these are the number of hours that they must provide work for an employee to undertake.

For example, if an employee’s contract states that they must work 35 hours a week, then they must have the opportunity to work 35 hours. If they cannot work this number of hours, then they could be in breach of their contract. If an employer cannot provide them with work for these hours, then they too could be in breach of the employee’s contract. 

Breaches of contracted hours can lead to dismissal for an employee. They may also lead to a business being taken to an Employment Tribunal.

What is the difference between contracted hours & actual hours?

Contracted hours, as discussed, are the hours an employer must provide to an employee. In reality, this may not be the number of hours they actually work. Things like holidays and sickness can reduce the number of actual worked hours. And working overtime can increase the number. Some contracts will include mandatory overtime; meaning an employee must work extra hours in certain situations. Other times, overtime will be optional and may even be incentivised in some way.

What is ACAS’s recommendation?

ACAS states that an employee’s working hours should be clearly stated in their contract. The contract must include not only the number of hours worked, but the days they expect an employee to work too. Any changes to either of these should see the contract amended and reissued to the employee.

An employee contract should also detail rates of pay and include details of holiday entitlement and sickness pay.

What happens when such hours are not being paid?

A contract of employment is legally binding for both parties. Any breach can lead to court action. If an employer does not provide work for the number of hours stated in an employee’s contract (or they cannot pay them for these hours), then they could face an Employment Tribunal.

Often, mediation will take place before legal action. But if this fails, an Employment Tribunal will hear the case and decide if a breach has occurred.

What happens when you work long hours?

You get paid more.

That may be a flippant answer, but overtime is often a key part of an employee’s salary. If your workplace offers overtime and you wish to work extra hours, then this will not change your contracted hours. Overtime is, by definition, voluntary and hours worked are over and above your contract.

As we mentioned previously, some businesses include mandatory overtime in their contracts. If this is the case, then you may have to work extra hours when your manager requests you to do so.

Be aware, however, that working hours in the UK fall under the European Worktime Directive. This states that no employee should be compelled to work over 48 hours per week. There is, however, the option to opt-out of the Directive if an employee wished to do so.