This is our improved working hours advice.

If you're working too many hours

This advice applies to England. See advice for See advice for Northern Ireland, See advice for Scotland, See advice for Wales

You might feel you're working too many hours if you're:

  • having mental or physical health problems because of overwork

  • working more than the legal limit of 48 hours a week

  • working more overtime than it says in your contract or more than you think is fair

  • being asked to do more than it's realistic to achieve in your normal working hours

If you're under 18, there are special rules about your working hours. Check your rights at work if you're under 18.


If your mental or physical health is at risk

You should speak to your manager and your GP if your health is getting worse because you have to work too many hours.

Your employer has a duty to provide a safe working environment. This includes making sure you're not working too many hours.

If you don't feel comfortable explaining your concerns to your manager, find someone else in a position of authority. For example, you could talk to another company manager, a health and safety rep or a union rep.

If you have a have a disability or long-term health condition, your employer might have duty to make 'reasonable adjustments'. This could include changes to your working hours. Find out if your employer has to make adjustments for you.

If you feel like you're not being taken seriously, you might have to take a more formal approach like raising a grievance. Find out more about dealing with problems at work.

Check if you're over the 48-hour limit

Your employer can't make you work more than 48 hours a week on average. It doesn't matter what your contract says or if you don't have a written contract.

If you're not sure whether you're working more than the legal limit, check how many hours you're working.

Your employer might ask you to sign an agreement to opt out of the 48-hour limit. Even if you do choose to sign it, you can cancel it at any time.

If you want to cancel your opt-out agreement

If you decide you don't want to work more than 48 hours a week any more, you can end your agreement by giving at least 7 days' notice in writing.

Your agreement might ask for a longer notice period, which can be up to 3 months.

Your employer can't stop you cancelling your opt-out agreement, even if it's in your employment contract.

Once the notice period is over, you'll only have to work up to 48 hours a week.

If you're paid by the hour, your pay will probably reduce because you're working fewer hours.

If you aren't paid by the hour, your employer might be able to reduce your pay.

Check whether your contract says your employer can change your pay - if it does, talk to an adviser.

Check how many hours you should be working

If you're not sure how many hours you're supposed to work each week, first check your contract. It should say:

  • the number of hours you have to work

  • the number of hours' work your employer has to give you

  • the normal pattern of shifts you'll be working - eg 9am to 5pm, or 11pm to 6am

If you don't have a written contract

If you don't have a contract in writing, ask your employer for a written statement of your terms and conditions of employment.

The statement should say how many hours you must work, including overtime.

If you don't have a statement, your working hours might be mentioned in:

  • letters

  • emails

  • text messages

  • meeting notes

Check if you have to do overtime

Your contract or statement might say you need to do some work on top of your usual working hours - this is called overtime. You only have to work overtime if your contract says so.

You don't have to work overtime if you could show the extra hours would make you earn less than the national minimum wage.

If your contract says you have to do overtime

Your contract might say you have to do 'a reasonable amount of overtime from time to time'. The overtime might be:

  • 'according to the needs of the business'

  • 'whatever hours are necessary to complete your work'

If you have 'guaranteed compulsory overtime' in your contract, this means your employer has to offer you overtime, and you must accept and work it.

If your contract says you have compulsory overtime but it's 'non-guaranteed', your employer doesn't have to offer overtime. But if they do, you must accept and work it.

Your employer could take disciplinary action or dismiss you if you don't do the overtime you've agreed to. Find out what you can do if your employer takes disciplinary action.

Check what a 'reasonable' amount of overtime is

Your contract might say how many hours of overtime you can be asked to do in a month.

If there's nothing in your contract or it says something like 'a reasonable amount', you could also:

  • check the overtime policy in your staff handbook

  • ask your employer to explain what they mean by 'reasonable overtime' in writing

Legally, your employer can't make you work more than 48 hours a week, including overtime. If they want you to work more than that, your employer has to ask you to opt out of the 48-hour limit. Find out more about the maximum weekly working time limit.

If your contract says you might be offered overtime

You don't have to do overtime if your contract says you might be offered it. Your employer shouldn't make you take a pay cut or treat you unfairly if you decide not to do it.

For example, your employer might offer overtime if the workload suddenly increases and they don't have enough staff to meet demand due to sickness.

If you think you're being asked to do too much voluntary overtime and you want to cut back, speak to your employer informally. You might be able to find another way to manage the work.

For example, if several colleagues are also doing unwanted overtime, you could suggest to your employer that they hire someone else to cover the extra hours. It might be cheaper to hire one new person than to pay extra to several employees.

Check if your employer is discriminating against you

Your employer might be discriminating against you if they try to make you work overtime and you can't because:

  • you have caring responsibilities outside work, eg for your children

  • your religion requires you to take time off

  • you have a disability or health condition

Check what you can do if you're facing discrimination at work.

If you've been working in a job less than 2 years

If you decline the overtime and you've been working in a job for less than 2 years, your employer could threaten to dismiss you.

Check if the reason for your dismissal would be unfair.If you need help, you can talk to an adviser.

If your contract doesn't mention overtime

Even if your contract doesn't mention overtime, your employer might still ask you to work extra hours.

You have a right to say no but if you say no without a good reason, it might damage your relationship with your boss. They might try to change the working hours in your contract.

Whether your employer can make changes will usually depend on your contract and whether you agree to the change.

Find out what you can do if your employer tries to change your contract.

Asking your employer to reduce your hours

If you're working too many hours, there are several ways you might be able to reduce them. For example, you can:

Ask your employer to reduce your workload

If you think your employer has unreasonable expectations about how much work you should be doing, you could ask them to reduce your workload.

Your first step should be to set up an informal meeting with your manager to explain your concerns.

If you don't feel comfortable speaking to your manager, find someone else in the business in a position of authority.

Before your meeting, plan what you're going to talk about. Write down:

  • a list of the tasks you do each day

  • which tasks are in your job description and which aren't

  • how long each task takes and how important it is

  • how much overtime your contract says you have to do, and how many extra hours you actually do to finish your tasks

  • the impact this workload has on your productivity, physical and mental health or work-life balance

You might suggest you could work more efficiently if your employer:

  • gives you training

  • helps you streamline a process

  • provides more up-to-date technology

If you're doing a lot of tasks outside your job description, you could ask your manager to prioritise them and drop anything that isn't central to your role.

If your manager still wants all the work done but you don't think you can complete it in working hours, you could negotiate longer deadlines to give you more time.

You could also suggest your employer shares the work out among other staff or hires more staff to complete the work.

Ask your employer for time off in lieu

If you're working too many hours but your employer doesn't want to pay overtime, you might be able to get 'time off in lieu' (TOIL).

This means your employer agrees to give you time off instead of paying you for extra hours you've worked.

You should get TOIL on top of your holiday leave.

Your contract should say:

  • how and when your employer will offer you TOIL

  • how much TOIL you can get

  • when you can take the time off

  • what happens to any TOIL you've got left when your job ends

You should keep a detailed record of any extra hours you work in exchange for TOIL.

If your employer keeps making you work excessive hours

If you've spoken to your employer informally but you don't feel like you're getting anywhere, you could take more formal action.

Taking formal action against an employer can be a long and stressful process. You might find it quicker and easier to look for a new job elsewhere.

If you decide to stay and challenge your employer about your working hours or workload, you could raise a formal grievance.

If your employer keeps making you work excessive hours, you might be able to resign and claim for constructive dismissal at an employment tribunal. You'd need to argue they might be in breach of contract on the implied terms of trust and confidence.

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Page last reviewed on 15 March 2019