Working hours – a simple guide

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Working hours are those hours you (are contracted to) work over a given period.

What are working hours?

Working hours are the hours you work each day or week or longer period.  The Working Time Regulations limit the permitted weekly working time to 48 hours a week, averaged over a 17 week period. You can agree to work more than 48 hours a week.

What is “working time”?

Under the Working Time Regulations, “working time” is the time during which you’re at your employer’s “disposal”.  This means it’s time when your employer can tell you what you can or can’t do.

With many jobs this is straightforward: are you at your desk doing your job?  However, with jobs which require you to spend time “on call” this distinction is less clear and it will depend on the circumstances.

What are “full time” hours?

What is regarded as “full time” varies between employers but it’s generally accepted that 40 hours a week, or 8 hours a day, is full time.  Some employers will require employees to work 7.5 hours a day, which is a 37.5 hour working week.  Either way, “full time” is taken to mean that you’re working for at least 5 full days a week.

Is lunchtime included in working hours?

No, working hours don’t include time taken on lunch breaks, or travelling to and from work. If you’re working over lunch – say you’re doing training, having a team lunch or lunch with a customer – then that will count as working time. Generally, contracts will allow for a one hour daily unpaid lunch break.  In other words, you’re only paid for the hours you work each week.

Breaks must be taken – dependant upon your working hours.

How many hours can I work without a break?

If you work more than 6 hours a day you’re entitled to an uninterrupted 20 minute rest break.  The break should be taken away from your workspace.  It should be during your working day not at the start or end.

There are also rights to rest between working days and working weeks, and of course paid annual leave to ensure that you get a longer break away from work. You’re entitled to at least 11 hours’ uninterrupted break between working days.  If that isn’t possible – for instance if you’re switching from a late shift to an early shift on the following day – your employer must make sure you get the rest another time.

In addition to daily rest breaks and the break between working days, you’re also entitled to at least 24 hours uninterrupted rest every week, and at least 48 hours uninterrupted rest every 14 days.  The latter can be taken in one go or as two 24 hour periods.

Should VDU / computer users be given breaks?

It’s a good idea to take a short break away from your screen every hour. HSE guidance on VDU breaks suggests that “short frequent breaks are more satisfactory than occasional longer breaks”.

Need more help?

If you need more help with the subjects covered here then do reach out to our expert online employment law solicitors.  You can email us at or call 03300 020 863.

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