Working time directive – It’s difficult as a business to understand the rules and regulations you have to follow regarding your employees. As an employee making sense of the laws that govern how you work can be equally baffling. But there is one law that stands above all others. And for both employer and employee, it is important to grasp its many rules. That law is the Working Time Directive.

What is the Working Time Directive?

The European Working Time Directive is a law passed down by the Council of Europe to protect the health and safety of workers within the European Union. Amongst its many rules are directives concerning working hours, holidays, sick pay, and night shifts.

The Directive was enshrined in UK law as the Working Time Regulations on the 1st of October 1998. This means that UK employees must follow their rules.

Do employers and employees have to follow it?

In short, yes. The Working Time Directive is a law and cannot be ignored. Legally employers have to comply with all its requirements, and employees have an entitlement to the benefits and protections it provides.

How many hours can I work under the Working Time Directive?

Unless the worker agrees in writing, then the maximum number of hours should not exceed 48-hours per week. The 48-hours should be an average over a 17-week rolling period. If an employee works within a “special case” business area, then the rolling period can be 26 weeks.

Which jobs fall under the “special case” rules?

There are several “special case” workers, including:

  • Employees in the security or surveillance sectors
  • People who work on docks or offshore platforms
  • Employees in passenger transport services (busses, trains, etc)
  • Workers employed within the rail transport sector whose work is intermittent or reliant on timetables.

Can I opt-out of the maximum hours governed by the Working Time Directive?

Employees who wish to opt-out of the 48-hour restriction can do so by completing an EWTD Opt-Out Form. They can then pass this to their employer. This signifies their willingness to work more than 48-hours per week.

What about breaks? Are these governed by the Working Time Directive?

The law states that all employees must have appropriate rest breaks throughout the working day. If an employee works over 6 hours in a day, then this break should be a minimum of 20 minutes. More breaks can be given, but this is at the employer’s discretion.

How long does the gap between shifts have to be?

The Working Time Directive states that workers have the right to 11 hours of rest between working days. For example, if a shift finishes at 9 pm then the next shift shouldn’t start before 8 am the next day.

How many days off should I get each week?

The law doesn’t specifically state how many days an employee should have off. It does, however, give guidance on the number of hours an employee should have away from work. Employees have the right to either:

  • An uninterrupted 24-hour break away from work in a week
  • An uninterrupted 48-hour break away from work every fortnight