Hours, rest breaks and the working week

Working hours in a week


Unless the worker has an opt-out agreement, or an exemption applies, workers aged 18 or over cannot be forced to work for more than 48 hours a week on average. The average is calculated by adding up all the working time over the reference period. Read more on exemptions for workers who choose their hours.

You must keep records of your workers' hours to show you're complying with the Working Time Regulations. You must retain these records for two years from the date on which they were made.

Calculating average hours

Workers' hours are usually calculated as an average over a reference period of 17 weeks. In this, you should make sure to include:

  • work-related training
  • travel as part of a worker's duties
  • working lunches

Working time does not include travelling between home and work (if you have a fixed place of work), lunch breaks, tea breaks, evening classes or day-release courses not related to work.

Under certain circumstances, the reference period may be extended to 26 weeks. Through a workforce or collective agreement, your workers can also agree to a longer period over which to average their working hours - up to 52 weeks.

Opting out

By signing a written agreement, most workers can agree to work longer than the 48-hour limit. They can cancel this opt-out agreement whenever they want as long as they give their employer at least seven days' notice in writing or a longer notice period (up to three months) if one has been agreed between the employer and the employee.

Under the Road Transport (Working Time) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2005, mobile workers in the road transport industry cannot 'opt-out' of the weekly working time limits. Read more on exemptions for workers who choose their hours.

There are similar restrictions concerning crews on vessels and aircraft.

Young workers

Special rules apply to young people under the age of 18 and these differ according to their age - see employing children and young people.