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Out of time? Opting out of the Working Time Regulations

Luke Whitmore - Law on the Web

  1. 11 November 2015
  2. Employment
  3. 0 comments
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For many of us, there are laws in place regarding how many hours we can be required to work. These laws, known as the Working Time Regulations, specify that you cannot be expected to work on average more than 48 hours a week. This average is usually worked out over the span of 17 weeks, meaning that while you are allowed to work more than 48 hours in any given week, your average hours per week over this period cannot exceed 48.

However, even if your profession is covered by the Working Time Regulations, it is possible to opt out of them if you feel this would be beneficial for you. This means you will be permitted to extend your working hours beyond an average of 48 hours a week.

Workers under the age of 18 are subject to different rules. They are not permitted to work more than 8 hours in a day or more than 40 hours in a week, and cannot opt out of these restrictions.

How to opt out

As long as you don’t belong to one of the groups of workers prevented from opting out (see below), you can make the decision to exempt yourself from the Working Time Regulations. You can choose to do this for a specified period of time – for example, if you are working on a big project requiring a lot of additional work – or you can opt out indefinitely.

You may also be asked by your employer to opt out of the Working Time Regulations, but the decision is entirely up to you. They cannot legally dismiss you from your job or treat you worse than other employees if you refuse.

In order to opt out, you need to provide your decision to your employer in writing in the form of an opt-out agreement, specifying that you are willing to work more than an average of 48 hours a week and stating a notice period for cancelling the agreement.

Ending an opt-out agreement

You can cancel your opt-out agreement at any time, but you will have to give your employer notice of this. The minimum notice period is 7 days, but a longer period may have been decided upon in your opt-out agreement – this could be up to 3 months.

Just as you can’t be forced to opt out of the Working Time Regulations, your employer cannot force you to cancel an opt-out agreement.

Workers who can’t opt out

As mentioned above, workers under 18 cannot opt out of the Working Time Regulations. There are also a number of other professions where workers are prohibited from opting out.

You can’t opt out of the regulations if you work:

  • on ships or boats
  • for an airline
  • operating a vehicle covered by EU drivers’ hours regulations, such as a coach or a heavy goods vehicle
  • as security on vehicles with high-value loads

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