Working Hours, Holidays and Breaks

Working Hours and Breaks

In general, a worker should work no more than 48 hours in a week, averaged over what is called a "reference period". This is normally 17 weeks.

The regulations do not apply to senior managers and others whose working time is not pre-determined and where they can exercise control over their own hours of work.

If a worker does more hours than are permitted under the regulations that, of itself does not give a right to be paid for the additional hours.

The regulations give workers the right to a break of at least 20 minutes if the working day is more than six hours. This break does not have to be paid. Workers are also entitled to a daily rest break of at least 11 hours and a weekly rest of not less than 24 hours, which can be averaged over two weeks.

There are additional rules covering night workers. In general, these state that a worker should not do more than eight hours a night, when averaged over four months. Employers have to provide free health assessments for night workers.

Holidays and holiday pay

Nearly all workers are entitled by law to paid annual leave. Full-time workers are entitled to at least 24 days per leave year. If you work part-time, you're entitled to a pro rata amount. There are some workers who are not entitled to paid holiday.

Unless your contract of employment gives you bank holidays in addition to your statutory paid holiday, bank holidays are included when calculating your entitlement. So if, for example, you work full-time and you have eight days off in a year for bank holidays, you will be entitled to these eight days plus another 16 days of holiday.

Under the statutory scheme holidays must be taken in the year in which they accrue, they cannot be paid for in lieu, unless the worker is leaving work and has not been able to take that year's holidays.

Pay during holidays is calculated on normal weekly earnings.

Employers have the right to ask for the leave to be deferred, provided they tell the employee in advance, giving notice which is at least as long as the leave requested.

Bank holidays can be included in the four weeks' holiday.

The only circumstances in which a worker can be paid in lieu of statutory holidays is when the contract ends without the worker having taken all of the days due. The law clearly states that the employer "shall make" a payment in lieu.

Time off work

Almost all employees have a statutory right to take paid time off work for the following:

  • to carry out duties as a trade union official
  • to carry out duties as a trade union health and safety representative
  • to look for work if faced with redundancy
  • to receive ante-natal care
  • to have a baby, to take paternity leave, to take adoption leave or to ask for flexible working hours to care for a child
  • For more information about maternity, paternity and adoption leave and asking for flexible working hours, see Parental rights at work.
  • to study or train for employees aged 16-17

In addition, almost all employees have a right to take time off work, although not necessarily with pay, for the following:

  • to participate in trade union activities
  • to perform 'public duties', for example, being a JP, local authority councillor or school governor
  • to care for their children. People who have worked for their employer for one year have the right to unpaid parental leave. You are entitled to 13 week's unpaid leave before your child is five. However, if your child is disabled, you get 18 week's leave which must be taken before the child is 18
  • to attend to unexpected problems with dependants, for example, where child minding arrangements break down. A dependant includes anyone who reasonably relies on the employee.

The right to ask for flexible working

If you are the parent of a child under six (under 18 if your child is disabled) or caring for an adult, you have the right to ask your employer for flexible working. You must also have worked for your employer for at least 26 weeks.

Flexible working can include working part time, working school hours, working flexitime, home working, job sharing, shift working, staggering hours and compressing hours (where you work your total number of agreed hours over a shorter period).

Although you have the right to ask to work flexibly, your employer doesn't have to agree to it. However, they must give your request serious consideration and have a good business reason if they decide not to agree.

If you are asking for flexible working because you're a parent, you must be responsible for your child on a day to day basis.

If you are caring for an adult, the adult must be one of the following:

  • your husband
  • your wife
  • your civil partner
  • your partner
  • a family relative, such as a mother, father, grandfather, brother or sister
  • someone who isn't related to you, but lives at the same address as you.

You can make one request to work flexibly each year. This must be in writing. You should say how you think the change in your working pattern will affect your employer's business and how this might work in practice.

Your employer must also follow a standard procedure for considering your request. This includes having a meeting with you. If your employer wants to turn down your request for flexible working, they must give their reasons in writing. You have the right to appeal if your request is turned down. You must do this in writing, within at least 14 days of getting your employer's decision. You should give your reasons for appealing and make sure your appeal is dated.

If your appeal for flexible working is refused, you may be able to ask the Labour Relations Agency to help you sort out your dispute with your employer

You can only complain to an employment tribunal under certain circumstances, for example, where your employer hasn't followed the procedure properly for considering your request or where they haven't taken the right information into account when making their decision.

You may also be able to make a claim to an employment tribunal for sex discrimination. For example, you can make a claim if you are a man and your request to work part-time to look after your children is refused when a request by a female employee would be accepted. If you are a woman, you may be able to make a claim on the basis that refusing to allow you to work flexibly is 'indirect sex discrimination'. This is because more women than men have childcare responsibilities.

This is a very complicated area. If you want to make a claim to an employment tribunal because your employer has refused your request for flexible working, there are strict time limits and procedures to follow. You should get advice from an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau.

You should also bear in mind that an employment tribunal may not be able to over-turn your employer's decision. However, it may be able to force your employer to reconsider your request or to award you compensation.

Sunday working

Shop-workers who work in large shops (over 280 square feet) have certain rights if they are asked to work on Sundays.
Shop-workers includes betting shop workers. Employees of a catering business do not count as shop-workers and are not protected from having to work on Sundays. This includes employees of pubs, restaurants and cafes.
Shop-workers have the same rights to limits on hours of work and entitlements to rest breaks, under Health and Safety law, as other workers.

If you are a shop-worker, and you started working for your employer before 4 December 1997, you are called a protected shop-worker. If you do not wish to work on Sundays you do not have to, and if your employer tries to dismiss you because you refuse to work on Sundays, you can automatically claim unfair dismissal at an industrial tribunal. This is regardless of how long you have worked for your employer, of whether you work full-time or part-time and of how old you are.


If you started working for your employer after 4 December 1997, you may be required to work on Sundays. However, unless you are employed to work on only on Sundays, you may opt out of Sunday working. You have to give your employer by giving three months' notice in writing of your objection to working on Sundays. If you give notice in the correct way and you work the three-month notice period, you have the right not to be dismissed or be treated unfairly for refusing to work on Sundays. If you are dismissed, it will count as an automatically unfair dismissal.

Christmas Day working

Large shops (over 280 square feet) in England and Wales are not allowed to open on Christmas Day. This is regardless of which day of the week it falls on. This means that if you work in one of these shops, you must be given Christmas Day off. However, whether or not you will be paid will depend on your contract of employment.