Labour Research (February 2011)

Law Queries

Working time

Q. A member often works more than 48 hours a week (though they weren’t asked to sign a Working Time opt-out when they started work). Having been there a while, they have started to feel more confident about asserting themselves and are no longer willing to work long hours. They raised the issue of working time with the employer, but all that happened is that personnel got in touch and tried (unsuccessfully) to get them to sign an opt-out. Where do they stand?

A. No-one can be made to work more than 48 hours a week. Even where someone has agreed to work more than 48 hours a week by signing an opt-out that consent can be revoked. The notice that the employer can require for revoking an agreement to opt-out cannot exceed three months and is normally just seven days.

However, the calculation of how many hours someone works is subject to a reference period. In particular, it may be lawful for an individual to work more than 48 hours a week on occasion as long as the total number of hours averaged out over a longer period (known as a reference period) falls below 48.

The reference period for calculating average hours is normally 13 weeks, but it can be extended by collective agreement to 52 weeks. (Different arrangements apply to some staff, such as carers and security staff.)

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