A short summary of employers obligations under the WTR 1998 : Are you compliant?

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Twenty years on and employers are still having difficulty getting to grips with their obligations under the Working Time Regulations 1998. Employers often fall foul of the rules and put the health and safety of their workers at risk. There are implications too for the public such as where drivers are working without taking requisite breaks resulting in tiredness and lapses in concentration or worse. It is important that policies and procedures are in place and those that are are checked to ensure that the following rules have been incorporated.

What do I need to know in order to protect my workers?

Employers must ensure that:

• the average working time (including any over- time) of every worker does not exceed 48 hours per week.
• they allow workers the following rest periods unless they are exempt, in which case compensatory rest will usually have to be given:
• 11 hours’ uninterrupted rest per day;
• 24 hours’ uninterrupted rest per week (or 48 hours’ uninterrupted rest per fortnight); and
• a rest break of 20 minutes when working more than six hours per day.
• workers have 5.6 weeks’ paid holiday each year (equivalent to 28 days for a full-time worker)
• workers are given ”adequate” rest breaks. This is particularly important where their work is monotonous.

• for each worker records are kept and maintained. These should show whether the limits on average working time, night work and provision of health and safety assessments are being complied with


Night workers

• night workers’ normal hours of work do not exceed eight hours per day on average
• no night worker doing work that involves special hazards or heavy physical or mental strain works for more than eight hours in any day
• all night workers have the opportunity of a free health assessment when starting night work and at regular intervals thereafter
• where a doctor advises that the night work is causing health problems that night workers are transferred to day work where possible

Opting out

There is some flexibility provided by the regulations in that many of the rights granted by the WTR 1998
to individual workers can be waived or varied by an individual, workforce, or by a collective agreement.
Individuals do have the right to “opt out” of the 48-hour limit on average working time but they must sign a relevant agreement with their employer to allow them to do this.

Special cases

The regulations differ depending on the type of work which is being carried out. Special case workers are
exempt, young workers (under 18 but over compulsory school age) and night workers are given additional protection. Special rules are given to certain groups of worker such as the police, armed services and those engaged in civil protection.

Don’t get it wrong!

Depending upon the type of breach which has occurred a wide range of sanctions are available against an employer:
• A potentially unlimited criminal fine
• “Improvement” or “prohibition” notices issued by the HSE or local authority inspectors. This may result in potentially unlimited fines and up to three years’ imprisonment for directors on conviction on indictment
• Compensation for workers in the employment tribunals
• Agreements being rendered unenforceable

This is only a very basic summary of the Working Times Regulations 1998. As would be expected, since  coming into force, provisions of the  Regulations have been rigorously tested in the courts.

Here, at the Commercial Law Practice, we provide a personal, all round view to provide you, and your business, with practical and professional advice. We can provide advice on the rights of employers or employees within the employment relationship, on the content of business’ policies and procedures, opt outs and other agreements.

For more information contact our employment law specialist, Lisa Pharaoh at The Commercial Law Practice via e-mail on lp@thecommerciallawpractice.com or call us on 01305 544015.

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