Everything employers need to know about working time and holiday regulations
Every HR team should understand the basic principles of working time and holiday regulations. These stipulate how long an employee is required to work for and how much annual leave they’re entitled to. If you don’t have a good grasp of the rules, you could find yourself in a sticky situation. Here, we outline the regulations you need to abide by as an employer and how to stay on the right side of the law.
What are working time regulations?
The Working Time Regulations 1998 were put into place to protect everyone’s health, safety and general wellbeing. And it’s no wonder, given that persistent overworking can cause numerous health problems – from neck and back pain to anxiety and high blood pressure. In fact, an unrealistic workload is one of the biggest workplace worries for employees everywhere.
According to UK law, employees cannot work more than 48 hours a week on average (this is normally averaged over 17 weeks). Although you can choose to work extra hours – for example, if you need some extra cash or have a particularly busy job – by opting out of the 48-hour week.
However, there are some exceptions to this rule. You may have to work more than 48 hours a week if your job:
- Requires 24-hour staffing (for instance, if you’re a nurse or work in a care home)
- Is in the armed forces, emergency services or police
- Is in security and surveillance
- Is a domestic servant in a private household
- Is a seafarer, sea-fisherman or worker on vessels on inland waterways
- Is one where working time is not measured and you’re in control (for example, if you’re a managing executive with complete control over your work)
Employees also have the right to rest while at work. By law, everyone is allowed a 20-minute rest break if they're expected to work more than 6 hours a day, and 11 hours’ rest between working days. Notably, this is the same whether you’re working from home or the office. This right to rest protects both staff and employers, as being overworked can have adverse effects and prevent people from doing their job to the best of their ability.
All staff are entitled to a certain amount of holiday each year. Statutory paid holiday is calculated at 5.6 weeks’ a year. Although the amount of annual leave you’re granted depends on how many days or hours you work, as well as any agreements you have with your employer. For example, maybe you negotiated a few extra days’ of holiday during your interview period or you’re a parent who’s agreed to take an extra week off during school summer holidays.
Why is it important that you adhere to these regulations?
Not sticking to the guidelines can have serious consequences for your business.
In the first instance, if an employee feels like their employer isn’t abiding by the law, they might raise a grievance. If this is the case, it’s your duty to take the complaint seriously. Try to keep a good working relationship with the person in question and set up a meeting for you to discuss the concern in a fair, constructive way. Then, make sure you follow up to check they’re happy with how the complaint has been dealt with.
Although it might not be in your best interest, now is also a good time to remind them that they can raise the complaint formally if they so wish.
If they choose to raise a formal complaint, you’re free to use mediation at any stage. This involves bringing in an independent, impartial person to help you both find a solution. Use the Civil Mediation Council to find a mediator near you. Bear in mind that both parties will need to agree to involving a mediator, and you might need to pay if it’s an external person.
If you fail to resolve the complaint, the employee might take further action and make a claim to the employment tribunal or report it to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) or their local authority. You could then be fined or served a prison sentence which, understandably, could hurt your reputation as an employer.
Here are some mistakes you should avoid as an employer
- Thinking anyone who opts out of the 48-hour week is opting out of the Working Time Regulations altogether
It’s true that UK law allows people to opt out of working a maximum of 48 hours per week. But that doesn’t mean they’re opting out of all of the regulations – remember that they’re still entitled to sufficient annual leave and rest breaks.
- Calculating holiday allowance incorrectly
When employees work irregular hours (like zero hour contracts, for example) it’s not as easy to work out their holiday entitlement. Use a holiday calculator to make sure you’re allocating your staff the correct number of holiday days.
- Failing to pay outstanding holiday when someone leaves
If someone leaves your company and they haven’t used all of their pro-rata holiday, they’re entitled to be paid for each of the days they haven’t taken. Bear in mind that this is still the case even if you made the decision for them to leave. Enter the details of their employment (including their leave date) into the holiday calculator to get an accurate figure for what you owe.
- Failing to accrue holiday for anyone who works overtime
You know that one employee who’s particularly hard-working and always ends up working weekends? They’re entitled to accrue holiday or days in lieu for that extra work.
- Letting too many employees fail to take their holiday allowance
You don’t want to get to the end of the year and find out you owe most of your employees for annual leave days they haven’t taken. This can be particularly problematic for small businesses struggling to manage cash flow. It’s a good idea to send regular reminders throughout the year to anyone who’s not taken much annual leave. Or, even better, have a system in place that allows you to track every employee’s holiday request and whether it’s been approved or not.
Understanding and following the working time and holiday regulations is vital to help keep your employees safe and happy at work. If you fail to adhere to them, there could be serious and undesirable consequences for your business. For more detail on the regulations, read the legislation in full.