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Working hours - overview

This advice applies to Wales

Maximum weekly working hours

The law says that most workers shouldn’t have to work more than 48 hours a week on average. This includes overtime.

You can choose to work more than 48 hours a week - but your employer can't tell you that you have to.

If you're under 18, you normally aren't allowed to work more than 40 hours a week.

You might not be covered by these rules if you work in a job:

  • as a lorry, coach or heavy goods vehicle driver
  • in the police, army and emergency services - for example firefighters and coastguards
  • as a junior doctor
  • as a domestic servant in a private house
  • as a seafarer, sea-fisherman or worker on vessels on inland waterways

If you’re not sure whether you should be working a 48-hour week you should check your contract.

If you need more help, you can get more advice from your local Citizens Advice.

What is meant by a 48-hour working week

The number of hours you can spend at work are usually averaged out over 17 weeks. Some weeks you might work more than 48 hours, and some you might work less, but the average should be 48 or less. This is called the reference period.

To work out your average weekly working hours, divide the number of hours you’ve worked by 17. If the number is more than 48 you should speak to your employer.

When you’re working out your average working hours, don’t count:

  • days you’re on statutory holiday leave
  • days you’re on sick leave
  • days you’re on maternity, paternity, adoption or parental leave
  • lunch breaks (unless you have to work through them)
  • your journey to and from work (if you have a fixed place of work)
  • time you spend on work you take home - it only counts as time spent working if your employer has agreed to this

‘On-call’ workers

Any time you spend at a place of work ‘on call’ counts as work.

If you don't have to stay within a certain place decided by your employer then your time on call doesn't count as working time until you actually start work.

If you live at your place of work, you should get specialist advice about whether your on call time is part of your working hours.

If you want to work more than 48 hours a week

You can work more than 48 hours a week if you choose, but your employer can’t pressurise you into agreeing to this.

If you choose to work more than 48 hours, you must tell your employer in writing.

You can change your mind if you want to stop working over 48 hours a week but you must give your employer at least 7 days’ notice. You may have to give more notice (up to 3 months) if you have a written opt-out agreement.

If your employer forces you to work more than 48 hours a week

Your employer can't force you to work more than 48 hours a week if you haven’t agreed to it in writing. If they do, they’ll be breaking the law.

You should first speak to your employer to try and work it out.

If you want to make a formal complaint the first step is to write a letter. The letter should set out what your complaint is with enough detail for your employer to be able to investigate it properly. Use our letter generator to set out the details of your grievance.

If you need to take matters further, you can make a claim to an employment tribunal. If you want to make a claim to an employment tribunal, you must notify the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) of your potential claim first.

If you refuse to work more than 48 hours a week and feel like you're being treated differently because of it, you could be being unfairly treated. If nothing is resolved, you can raise a grievance and then go to a tribunal.

Night workers

In addition to the 48-hour limit on working hours, there are special rules which apply to night workers.

You’re classed as a night worker if you regularly work for at least 3 hours of night time (defined as 7 hours including the hours from midnight to 5am) during a working day.

If you’re a night worker, you shouldn’t have to work more than an average of 8 hours in each 24-hour period. This is averaged out over a period of 17 weeks - this is called the reference period. You can work more than 8 hours a day as long as the average over 17 weeks is no more than 8.

Your employer must offer you a health assessment before you become a night worker. A repeat assessment must be offered regularly. Your employer must offer suitable other work where possible if you have health problems that a doctor says are related to night work.

The limit on hours for night workers doesn’t apply to some groups of night workers. If you need further advice about the limits which apply to you, it’s best to contact a specialist employment adviser.

Reporting a problem with working hours

You can report a problem with working hours on GOV.UK if you think your employer is breaking the rules.

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