UK Working Time and 4-day Workweek

April 9th 2024

UK employment laws cover a broad spectrum of matters concerning the interactions between employers and employees, ensuring the protection of their interests in various aspects such as recruitment, pay, working hours, leave entitlement, termination, addressing discrimination, resolving disputes, and fostering inclusivity.

While it may be complex, these employment laws ultimately foster fairness and balance in the relationship between employers and employees.

This article covers:

Laws and Regulations that Govern Employee Working Time in the UK

The Working Time Regulations 1998, known as the Time Management Regulations in the UK, establish the maximum allowable weekly working hours for most workers, along with rules concerning rest breaks and annual leave.

These regulations set a maximum average working week of 48 hours, which employees can choose to opt out of if they wish.

Employers are also obligated to grant rest breaks during the working day and ensure employees receive a minimum of 28 days’ paid leave per year.

Moreover, the regulations impose restrictions on night work and mandate employers to provide health assessments for night workers.

The primary aim of the Time Management Regulations is to promote a healthy work-life balance and ensure that employees have sufficient time off work for rest and rejuvenation.

Overtime in the UK

Employees are not compelled to work overtime unless their employment contract explicitly states the requirement. UK law stipulates that employees cannot be compelled to work beyond an average of 48 hours per week. 

Nonetheless, employees may willingly agree to work extra hours, but such an agreement must be recorded in writing and signed by the employee. If the contract does not guarantee overtime, employers have the authority to prohibit their employees from working it. Employers must not discriminate against employees by permitting some to work overtime while denying others the opportunity.

Similarly, employers are not obliged to provide compensation for overtime hours worked. However, it is mandatory that the overall pay for all hours worked by an employee meets or exceeds the National Minimum Wage. Details pertaining to payment rates and the calculation of overtime compensation are usually included in an employee’s contract.

Overtime Exceptions and Exemptions in the UK

Though not mandatory, employees in the UK have the choice to work beyond the 48-hour week limit by opting out.

Moreover, certain jobs, such as those requiring 24-hour staffing, employment in the armed forces, emergency services, police, security and surveillance, domestic service in a private household, seafaring, sea-fishing, or working on vessels on inland waterways, as well as jobs where working time is not measured and the employees are in control permit employees to surpass the 48-hour limit.

It’s also worth noting that for employees who are under 18 years old, the maximum allowable working time is eight hours per day or 40 hours per week.

UK 4-day Workweek

In June 2022, the nonprofit Day Week Global organized a six-month trial for a four-day workweek in the UK, partnering with Autonomy, the 4 Day Week Campaign, and researchers from the University of Cambridge and Boston College. 

Over 3,000 workers across 70 diverse companies participated, enjoying an extra day off every week based on the 100-80-100 rule, where they earned 100% of their pay for 80% of their time while delivering 100% of output.

The successful pilot program, which ended in December, saw more than 90% (61 companies) of the participating companies expressing their intention to make the four-day workweek permanent. Additionally, in Scotland, a government-conducted trial of the four-day working week in 2022 produced positive outcomes, and further pilots are planned for 2023, involving a more diverse group of businesses.

On a government level, the UK Parliament debated the implementation of a four-day working week for the first time in mid-October 2022. Labour MP Peter Dowd introduced the new 32-Hour Working Week Bill, aimed at reducing the maximum working week from 48 to 32 hours, while ensuring overtime pay for workers exceeding the set limit. 

The bill, taking inspiration from a similar proposal in the US House of Representatives by Democratic politician Mark Takano, would have amended the Working Time Regulations Act 1998 by reducing the maximum working week from 48 hours to 32 hours.

Despite facing opposition and limited support from the government, the bill represents a noteworthy development in the growing momentum for a four-day working week, supported by at least two-thirds of the British public according to consistent polling data.

Employing Minors in the UK

Minors in the UK must be at least 13 years old to work part-time, with the exception of those in the entertainment industry, such as television, theatre, or modelling, who require a performance licence for employment.

For full-time work, minors must reach the minimum school leaving age and are permitted to work a maximum of 40 hours per week.

Employers may need to utilize PAYE (Pay As You Earn) to pay minors at the age of 16 and once they reach 18, they are entitled to adult employment rights and regulations.

Laws on Working Hours for Minors in the UK

Minors are subject to specific working hour restrictions based on their age and the time of year. During the school term, when students are attending classes and following a fixed schedule, minors can work a maximum of 12 hours per week. This weekly limit includes 2 hours on school days and Sundays, and up to 5 hours on Saturdays for those aged 13 to 14, or 8 hours on Saturdays for those aged 15 to 16.

During school breaks, 13 to 14-year-olds have the ability to work for up to 25 hours per week, with a maximum of 5 hours on weekdays and Saturdays, and only 2 hours on Sundays. For 15 to 16-year-olds, the permitted weekly work hours increase to a maximum of 35, with a cap of 8 hours on weekdays and Saturdays, and 2 hours on Sundays.

Minors aged 16 or 17 are generally prohibited from working between midnight and 4 a.m. Additionally, they are restricted from working between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., unless their employment contract specifies that they cannot work between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. However, some exceptions exist for certain industries like agriculture, healthcare, hotels or catering, retail, newspaper and post delivery, cultural, sporting, artistic, or advertising activities. In exceptional cases where no adult is available to perform the work and the young person is required to manage a sudden increase in demand or maintain the continuity of a service or production, they may be allowed to work at night. In such cases, the employer must ensure that the young person receives a rest period equal to the duration of the extended shift.

Learn more about UK Labor Laws through our detailed guide.

Important Cautionary Note

This content is provided for informational purposes only. While we make every effort to ensure the accuracy of the information presented, we cannot guarantee that it is free of errors or omissions. Users are advised to independently verify any critical information and should not solely rely on the content provided.