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How many hours can my employer make me work?

Working hours are often a contentious issue in employment. Although many employees work a standard 40-hour working week, many are asked to work longer hours in order to satisfy demand or cope with short staffing.

The law aims to protect employees from having to work excessive hours, which can be dangerous to the health and wellbeing of the workforce. The European Working Time Directive (2003/88/EC) states that workers should be entitled to work no more than 48-hours per week.

Although the European Working Time Directive is effective in UK law, some workers can choose to opt out of its provisions if they wish to work longer hours. Some employees in specific industries may also be opted out of the European Working Time Directive.

Where can I find out my normal working hours?

Normal working hours should form a part of your employment contract, and by law all employees have the right to receive a written statement from their employer within two months of starting work.

Your written statement should detail the name of your employer, the date you started work and the amount of pay you will receive. The written statement should also detail your hours of work.

Your contract should detail whether you can be required to work overtime, and should detail any deviation from the European Working Time Directive, that you must consent to.

If you have not specifically agreed to opt out of the European Working Time Directive, then the maximum number of hours your employer can require you to work in a week is 48, averaged out over a 17-week period.

What are the exceptions to the maximum 48-hour working week?

Most employees are entitled not to work more than 48-hours per week averaged over a 17-week period. If you are a junior doctor, your 48-hour maximum is averaged out over a longer 26-week period.

However, it is possible for some employees to opt out of the 48-hour working week in order to be able to work longer hours, often for more pay.

Only workers aged 18 or over can opt out of the maximum 48-hour working week. The opt out must be voluntary, and must be in writing to be effective. You can choose to opt out for a specific period, or you may decide to opt out indefinitely.

Employers must ask employees whether they wish to opt out of the 48-hour maximum working week individually, not collectively. Employers must not discriminate against any individual who wishes not to opt out.

Can anyone opt out of the maximum 48-hour working week?

Certain workers are not allowed by law to opt out of the maximum 48-hour working week, these include:

  • Workers on boats and at sea
  • Airline staff
  • Delivery drivers and HGV drivers
  • Bus conductors and drivers
  • Security guards in high-value goods vehicles

What are the maximum working hours for under-18s?

If you are under 18 then you should not work more than eight hours in any day, and you mustn't work more than 40 hours per week. Unlike with over-18s, the maximum hours are absolute, not averaged out over a time period.

Under-18’s cannot legally opt out of these working time restrictions.

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