Employment law

Are you working over the legal requirement?

As the coronavirus pandemic swept across the globe, many employees began to call home their place of work. Have the lines between work life and personal life become blurred? We take a closer look at working time regulations.

21 September 2021

Business woman having a video call with co-worker, working online from home at cosy atmosphere. Concept of remote work from home.

Is your employer ensuring working time regulations are met?

Employers must abide by the Working Time Regulations (1998), also known as the Working Time Directive. This is a maximum weekly working time limit of 48 hours per week for those 18 or over, and 40 hours per week for those under 18.

There are some exceptions to this rule:

  • Armed forces or the emergency services
  • Security and surveillance
  • Domestic servants in private households
  • Seafaring, sea-fishing or when working on vessels in inland waterways
  • Those who set their own hours (e.g., senior employees)

You can also choose to ‘opt out’ of the working time directive if you’re over 18 and wish to work over 48 hours per week. Both you and your employer need to sign an agreement for this to take effect.

Employees are entitled to breaks as follows:

  • Rest break at work: one, uninterrupted 20-minute break during the working day, when working six hours or more. This may or may not be paid, depending on what was agreed in your contract of employment.
  • Daily rest: 11 hours of rest between the end of one working day and the start of a new working day. Employees must also not work more than eight hours on night shift in any 24-hour period.
  • Weekly rest: This consists of either one, uninterrupted 24-hour period without work each week, or one, uninterrupted 48-hour period without work each fortnight.

The exception to this is where taking a rest or break would neglect a duty of care, such as while working in the armed forces or the emergency services and responding to an incident, or when an employee working in the care sector has someone in their sole care.

It’s also worth noting that special regulations may apply to sea, road, or air transport workers.

Have the distinctions between home and work life become blurred since the start of the pandemic?

When working from home, employees may experience a pressure to be “always on”.

Since the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses have adapted to hybrid working, with a joint study from Microsoft Surface and YouGov showing that 9/10 UK employees surveyed (87%) had switched to a hybrid approach.

However, of those surveyed, 30% said they’d seen an increase in their working hours, whilst 53% said they felt a pressure to be available at all times.

Activities such as work-related phone calls, travel requested by an employer within your set working hours, work-related training, working lunches, and paid overtime all count as working time, so breaks and rests should be factored around these.

If any permanent changes to your working hours are required, you’d need to sign an updated employment contract. Even temporary changes (for example, in the case of staff shortages) need to be agreed to by both the employee and the employer. The employer would then need to ensure that your hours average out in the days and weeks that follow, to ensure that you’re not working over your contracted hours.

Ways in which your employer may be violating the Working Time Regulations Act include:

  • Contacting you out of hours (whether that be online, via phone, or in person) within your daily or weekly rest times, or at scheduled break times.
  • Requiring you to monitor systems, accounts, or communications platforms (including email) outside of scheduled working hours.
  • Increasing working hours with your agreement, but not providing the time in-lieu.
  • Increasing working hours without your agreement.

Has working from home during the pandemic influenced how businesses will work in the future?

According to data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), it’s anticipated that hybrid working will increase after the COVID-19 pandemic.

24% of businesses across all industries said they would be adopting an increased home working approach going forward, whilst 28% were undecided at time of survey.

What’s clear from the data, is that employers and employees alike prefer the prospect of a more flexible working (or hybrid working) approach than that of returning full time to the office.

What to do if you’re working excess hours?

It’s important to find a healthy balance when working from home. If you feel that your employer expects you to be available at all times, it’s important to challenge this, as excessive working hours can have an impact on your quality of life. Lack of sleep or rest can cause health issues, both physical and mental, and relationships with family and friends may suffer if work is encroaching on personal time.

To find out how our team of experts can support you in achieving a better work life balance, simply call us on 0330 041 5869. Or, if you prefer, you can contact us via our online form or web chat.

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