Weekly dilemma: Hours of work and rest periods

I’m starting a new business, which may require staff to work at night and around the clock. How do I ensure that I’m complying with the law on rest breaks and periods?

You will have to comply with the Working Time Regulations 1998, which impose a number of obligations on employers in relation to working time and rest breaks, as well as restrictions on night-time working. The Regulations apply to most workers, with a few exceptions for those who are self-employed, mobile workers, surveillance or security staff, the armed forces and the police.

In addition, you have a duty as an employer to take all reasonable steps to protect the health and safety of your staff. That includes making sure they do not work on average for more than 48 hours over a seven-day period, unless they have agreed, in writing, to “opt out” of this rule.

Generally, workers aged 18 and over are entitled to at least:

  • 11 hours’ uninterrupted rest per day;
  • 24 hours’ uninterrupted rest per week or 48 hours’ uninterrupted rest per fortnight; and
  • a rest break of 20 minutes if the working day is more than six hours.

If you are planning to hire young workers, be aware that even stricter rules apply to those aged under 18 but who are above the compulsory school age.

You mention night work as well, to which special rules apply. The Regulations define a “night worker” as someone who works at least three hours during night time on the majority of days they work. In practice, night working usually means working between the hours of 11pm and 6am.

The normal working hours of an adult night worker must not exceed an average of eight hours in a 24-hour period, including overtime.

It is your job as the employer to make sure that all staff adhere to these working time and rest break limits. If the jobs at hand involve special hazards or heavy physical or mental effort, then employees must not be made to work more than eight hours (as opposed to an average of eight hours) in any 24-hour period.

As far as night working is concerned, make sure that you identify potential work hazards, assess the risk of harm and take all reasonable steps to ensure the health and safety of your staff.

Emma Dickinson, solicitor, Simpson Millar LLP

Get answers to more questions on the Working Time Regulations 1998:

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