Employers make liberal use of working time regulations opt-out

Many organisations routinely ask key employees to opt out of working time limits even though there is little prospect that they will exceed the legal limits, according to a study by Personnel Today’s sister publication, Employment Review.

The survey of 163 organisations, which together employ nearly 500,000 people, found that seven out of 10 employers (71%) ask at least some of their managers to sign an opt-out form releasing them from the protection of the Working Time Regulations.

Professional workers – ranging from engineers to doctors – are also asked to opt out as a matter of course in almost as many organisations (68%).

However, the survey shows that just over half of all organisations have employees in either group who actually work non-standard hours.

Under the Working Time Regulations, most workers are protected from working more than 48 hours a week averaged over 17 consecutive weeks. The regulations also govern rest periods and holidays.

But ‘workers’ (a category that includes both employees and seasonal, casual and temporary staff) can sign an individual waiver exempting themselves from the 48-hour limit.

The survey shows that workers in personal and protective services – mostly in the public sector or organisations providing similar services – are least likely to be asked to sign an opt-out. Just one in eight employers (12%) asks any of the workers in this group to do so.

Clerical and secretarial employees are least likely to work any non-standard hours, with just one in six employers (17%) reporting that they had workers in this category.

But where you work is key factor

The non-standard working week is a feature of management life in the public sector – but in the manufacturing and production sector it is more common among manual workers, the Employment Review study shows.

While seven out of 10 public sector organisations (69%) have managers who work non-standard hours (defined as working time that falls outside the basic working week), this falls to 57% of private sector services firms and 39% of manufacturers.

At the same time, just one in four public sector organisations (25%) asks skilled manual workers to work non-standard hours and one in three (31%) requires this of semi-skilled manual workers. Among manufacturing companies, these figures rise to 61% and 72%.

The survey also shows that clerical and secretarial staff who want a relatively easy life should opt for a manufacturing or public sector employer, where just 11% and 13% respectively will require them to work non-standard hours.

This doubles to 22% among companies operating in private sector services.

Work-time waivers banked for future

Most organisations that ask employees to sign a working time waiver do so at the point they make a job offer, the Employment Review survey shows.

Seven out of 10 (70%) of those surveyed said they would ask new recruits to opt out of the legal protections afforded by the regulations at the beginning of the employment relationship. This rose to 90% in relation to managers.

The remaining three out of 10 organisations making use of the opt-out (30%) said that they would ask workers to sign a waiver if and when the need arose to exceed the limits laid down in the regulations.

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