On this page you will find your key legal rights on working hours. This includes overtime, rest breaks and the maximum hours you can be asked to work.
On this page:
- Being certain about your working hours
- Rights to a work-life balance
- Can your employer change your hours?
- Working overtime
- Rest breaks
- Travelling between appointments
- Maximum working week
- Right to request flexible working
All ‘workers’ have the same basic statutory rights to limits on working time and rest. You may have extra rights which will be in your employment contract.
However, you do not have these rights if you are genuinely self-employed, running your own business and offering your services to your own clients.
For most people deciding whether to accept a new job offer, working hours are likely to be a top concern.
You probably also want to know what flexibility is on offer, to assess whether this employer will help you achieve a sensible work-life balance.
Your job offer should clearly set out your working hours and any rest breaks. It should also tell you what overtime is expected and state whether it is paid or unpaid.
Your employer should keep any promises they make to you about your working hours when you accept the job. Contractual promises can only be changed with your agreement.
Your employer must include information about your working hours in a document known as a written statement of employment particulars. This document often doubles up as your employment contract. Your employer must give you this document within a month of starting work.
Your written statement of employment particulars must set out your normal working hours and any regular overtime.
The law changed on 6 April 2020, since when you have been entitled to the written statement from day one of your job. If you work part-time the statement should identify your working days and state whether these are fixed or variable. If they are variable (for example a zero hours contract), your employer will have to state how they will be worked out and communicated to you.
Your payslip is another important source of information about working hours.
You must be given an itemised pay slip by your first pay date, setting out your gross wages and any deductions hyperlink to pay section above
If your wages vary depending on your working hours, your payslip must show the number of hours’ work that are being paid for.
A good employer will have clear policies on work-life balance, including flexible working, time off to deal with emergencies and parental leave to care for your children. Typically these will be set out in the staff handbook or published on the intranet.
Your employer must include information about its family-friendly policies in your written statement of employment particulars.
Employees (but not agency workers) have some important basic statutory rights to take time off to help with work-life balance. These include rights to:
- request flexible working, available after working for 26 weeks;
- take unpaid time off to deal with emergencies affecting your dependents, available from day one of your job; and
- take a fixed allocation of weeks of unpaid time off for parental leave, available after working for one year.
More information on family-friendly working rights is available here.
Your employer cannot change your normal working hours without your agreement.
But check your employment contract carefully. Sometimes, the contract includes wording designed to allow your employer to make ‘reasonable’ changes to contract terms without your consent.
In general, this kind of wording should not be used by an employer to force through significant changes to your working hours. If you find yourself in this situation, contact the CSP.
If you want to object to a change to your contract hours, you need to tell management quickly, preferably in writing.
Bear in mind that you can ‘accept’ a contract change to your hours through your behaviour, even if nothing is written down and even if you don’t intend to. For example, if your employer changes your start time from 9:00am to 9:30am and you start working from 9:30am without clearly objecting, before too long your behaviour is likely to be interpreted as a legal acceptance of the new start time, even if you are not actually happy about it.
Information about overtime and overtime pay must be included in your written statement of employment particulars. This is often the same document as your written employment contract.
Overtime can be contractual or voluntary. ‘Contractual overtime’ is overtime you are obliged to work. An example might be a shift overrun or medical emergency when you are unable to stop working until someone else comes to take over or the procedure is completed. Your obligation to work contractual overtime should be explained clearly in your employment contract.
‘Voluntary overtime’ is extra shifts that the employer can offer you, but which you are not obliged to accept.
Whether you get extra pay in return for overtime depends on the employment contract. There is no right to an enhanced pay rate (such as time and a half or double time) unless this has been clearly agreed.
Many workplaces operate policies such as time off in lieu’ (TOIL) or flexitime. These are designed to enable employees to ‘bank’ time or take time off work, making it up later. Check your contract terms and your employer’s policies.
Take care not to build up large amounts of ‘TOIL’ or ‘flexitime’. When you eventually leave your job, your employer is very unlikely to have to pay you for this time unless the employment contract clearly says they must.
Unpaid overtime is a key concern for trade unions. According to the TUC, in 2019 more than five million workers put in a total of 2 billion unpaid hours. That is the equivalent of working the first two months of 2019 for free.
If you are unhappy about working long hours, check out the CSP materials on stress at work. hyperlink to stress section in Workplace/Health and safety/Occupational stress
Your rights to rest breaks at work must be set out in your written statement of particulars.
All workers have basic statutory rights to rest breaks. Your employer can improve on these, but it is against the law to give you less than the statutory minimum.
If your working day lasts more than six hours you have a basic right is to an unpaid, uninterrupted rest break, spent away from your work station, of at least 20 minutes. You must get to take this break in working time. It is against the law for your employer to add it to the end of your shift.
Although there is no right to pay, many employers provide paid breaks (especially if they recognise a union). Many give breaks that are longer than the statutory minimum.
As well as a rest break after working for six hours, you have the legal right to a daily rest break of at least 11 consecutive hours between working days.
You also have a right to a weekly rest break from work of not less than 24 hours, which can be averaged out over two weeks.
Workers on zero hour contracts have the same rights to rest breaks as others.
People who are genuinely self-employed, selling their services to their own clients and customers, are not eligible for these rights.
If you work in the community, the time you spend travelling between appointments, for example, home-based visits, should normally be treated as part of your working day.
The same goes for your journey from home to your first appointment of the day and back home from your last appointment.
However, this does not necessarily translate into extra pay. As long as your employer complies with national minimum wage law when your pay is averaged out over the month, any extra pay for time spent travelling will be as set out in your employment contract.
In general, you have a right not to work more than 48 hours a week, averaged out over a 17-week period. There are some specific exceptions.
You can opt out of this 48-hour limit by signing an opt-out agreement. If you decide to opt out, you can opt back in again at any time. You must give at least seven days’ notice. Your contract can set a longer notice period, but it can’t be more than three months. Your employer must keep a record of your agreement to opt out.
Any opt-out agreement must be in writing and must be entirely voluntary. Otherwise, it will not be valid.
As long as you are an employee and have worked for your employer continuously for at least 26 weeks, you have the right to ask to change the basis on which you work. This is the statutory right to ask to work flexibly. It is a right to ask – not a right to work flexibly.
You have the right to ask to:
- change your working hours (for example, to switch to part-time);
- change your working times (for example, changing your start or finish time, or compressing your hours to work a longer day, or term-time only); and
- work some or all of your time from home.
You can make just one formal request to work flexibly in any 12-month period.
Any contract changes will be permanent unless you agree with your employer that they will be temporary, or subject to a review date.
There is nothing to stop your employer agreeing informally to a temporary change in response to a short-term situation, such as a course of study. Whatever you agree, make sure it is set out clearly in writing, so that everybody knows where they stand.
In some cases it might be sensible to suggest a trial period. This enables everyone to test whether the arrangement is going to work well and make any necessary adjustments.
Your employer must deal with your request in a ‘reasonable manner’ and they must give you their decision within three months of the request date, unless you have agreed to a longer deadline.
Your employer can only reject your request for one of these business reasons:
- extra cost;
- inability to organise work among existing staff or to recruit extra staff;
- detrimental impact on quality, performance or the organisation’s ability to meet customer demand;
- not enough work to do in the periods when you want to work; or
- a planned restructuring of the business.
When putting together your request, it is a good idea to try to anticipate and address the employer’s likely objections. It is also sensible to highlight any business benefits of your proposal. Suggesting a trial period is a good way of showing that the employer’s objections can be successfully overcome.
If you are asking for adjustments because of a disability, you should spell this out in your request.
Acas has published useful information on making a request to work flexibly.
If you are an employee, you have a statutory right, from the first day on the job, to take reasonable unpaid time off to deal with a family emergency involving your parents, children, spouse or cohabitee, or anyone else who looks to you for assistance.
A ‘family emergency’ means sickness, accident, criminal injury, death, funerals, absence of the carer for the family member, or serious problems at your child’s school.
If you need to take time off for urgent domestic reasons, you should tell your employer, as soon as possible, why you need the time off, so that they know you are asserting your statutory right to take time off for emergencies.
You have the right to take time off either to deal with unexpected or sudden events involving your dependant or to make arrangements for their care.
This is the statutory minimum right your employer must provide to enable you to leave work to deal with an emergency. Some workplaces offer more flexible arrangements, or time off with pay. Check the staff handbook where you work.
Eligible working parents who are employees (but not agency workers) have a statutory right to take unpaid parental leave. You must have at least one year’s service with your employer, have or expect to have parental responsibility for a child and give at least 21 days’ notice.
Parental leave is for looking after your child’s welfare, for example, taking unpaid time off to look at new schools or to settle your child into a new nursery.
Parental leave is unpaid. You’re entitled to 18 weeks’ leave for each child and adopted child, up to their 18th birthday.
You must take your parental leave as whole weeks, not individual days, unless your employer agrees otherwise or unless your child is disabled.
More details are contained in this briefing.
If you work part time (including on a zero-hours contract), you should get all the contractual benefits of a full-time worker, such as pay, sick pay, holidays, holiday booking procedures and bank holidays.
If not, your employer must be able to justify any difference in treatment.
The pay and holidays you get will be reduced in proportion to your working hours.
To enforce your rights to equal treatment as a part-time worker, you must point to a real person working full-time for your employer and doing broadly the same job as you but on better terms and conditions.
You cannot compare yourself to another part-time worker. These rights are not so useful if nobody works full-time where you work.
However, if you return to work part-time after maternity leave to the same role, you can compare your part-time terms and conditions with your own full-time terms.
If you participate in a job-share arrangement, you have all the same basic employment rights as any other worker, including rights to protection when you return from statutory maternity, adoption or shared parental leave.
Rights to holidays and holiday pay will be pro rata to the number of hours you work.
It is important to make sure that your duties and working hours under a job-share arrangement are clearly agreed on and set out in writing before you enter into the arrangement.
This framework should also anticipate how changes will be dealt with, for example, if one or both job-share employees take parental leave or leaves to take on another role.
Most people with a zero-hours (or short-hours) contract qualify for all the basic statutory rights available to any other worker. Zero-hours contract workers work part time, so they also have all the rights and protections of a part-time worker.
A typical zero-hours contract will include language stating that your employer is not obliged to offer you any work and you are not obliged to accept it.
Sometimes, the hours of work are described as ‘zero’ or ‘hours to be agreed’, or they may be set at, say, three hours a week.
Some rights – for example to Statutory Sick Pay – depend on you earning above the Lower Earnings Limit- available here and changed each April. If your wages are below this threshold, you may lose out. If you hold more than one job, your wages are not aggregated together to meet the threshold.
You will not have statutory worker rights if you are operating a genuinely self-employed business providing your services to your own clients.
If you have a disability, your employer has a legal duty to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ at work to take account of your disability.
This includes possible adjustments to your working hours such as changing your start time, allowing extra breaks, reduced hours or a period of disability leave to enable you to adjust to a disability.
Beware bogus ‘self-employment’ arrangements, designed to force you to lose out on key worker rights such as your right to rest breaks and statutory limits on your working time.
To be genuinely self-employed, you should be running your own business, marketing your services as a physiotherapist on an arms-length basis to your own customers and clients.
If you are working regularly for an organisation, providing your services to their clients, there is a good chance that legally you are a ‘worker’, even if the written agreement you have signed describes you as ‘self-employed’. This means you have rights, for example, to holiday pay and protection from discrimination.