Employee rights around working hours and conditions in the UK

The health, safety, and work-life balance of all employees are protected by a number of rights. Here are a just a few you should be aware of:

To find a comprehensive list of your rights pertaining to health, safety, and work-life balance, visit the government’s website.

The right to enough breaks at work

What breaks are employees entitled to?  

An individual’s employment contract may stipulate that an employee is entitled to a range of breaks from work. However, there are three types of breaks that almost all employees over the age of 18 are entitled to:

Rest breaks at work

While employers don’t have to provide payment for this break, employees that work for more than six hours a day have the right to rest during the working day for an uninterrupted period of 20 minutes. 

Daily rest

Between ending and beginning their next working day, employees have the right to 11 hours of rest. For example, if an employee finishes at 7pm on Tuesday, the earliest they are required to return to work the next day is 6am. 

Weekly rest: 

An employee has the right to either; 

  • an uninterrupted 24 hours without any work
  • or an uninterrupted 48 hours without any work each fortnight.

Note: the government advises that if an employee’s work is considered monotonous, employers are expected to give a sufficient number of breaks to ensure their employee’s health and safety are not at risk.

The right to request flexible working arrangements

Requesting flexible working is a legal right for many people, which means all employers have prescribed procedures to follow when considering these arrangements. 

At its best, flexible working allows employees to work within hours, patterns, or locations that suit their needs. The result of flexible working is a healthy work-life balance, which means employees bring their best selves to work — wherever that may be. 

Common types of flexible working arrangements: 

  • Remote working: performing a role at home or somewhere else offsite, such as a café or co-working space.
  • Job sharing: when two or more employees share the hours of one full-time position.
  • Flexitime: this can be simply setting their own start and finish times or having complete autonomy over how and when they complete their weekly workload.
  • Part-time work: the most popular form of flexible working, these employees perform and are paid for fewer hours than those in full-time roles.
  • Semester-time work: allows employees to take paid or unpaid leave during the school vacation (in addition to their normal paid time off).
  • Compressed working hours: reallocating the working week into fewer but longer blocks of time, such as working longer hours Monday to Thursday in order to gain Friday off.
  • Reduced working weeks: abandons the traditional five-day working week and sees employees work fewer days for the same pay. For example, WORK180 employees get every other Friday off — at full pay!

Who has the right to request flexible working in the UK? 

Despite the common misconception that it’s only available to parents and carers, almost all employees have the legal right to request flexible working arrangements. They simply need to have worked continuously for the same employer for the last 26 weeks. This is known as ‘making a statutory application’

However, some employees don’t have the statutory right to ask for flexible working: 

  • Agency workers (unless returning from parental leave) 
  • An employee that has asked for flexible working (whether granted or not) in the last 12 months
  • An employee shareholder (unless returning from parental leave in the last 14 days) 

Please note: If an employee doesn’t meet the criteria to make a statutory request, this doesn’t mean they can’t request flexible working. It’s simply that their employer isn’t legally bound to consider the request.

How are flexible working arrangements requested? 

As of 2014, employers and employees in England, Wales, and Scotland no longer have to submit or process requests for flexible working in a particular way or within a set time period. However, in Northern Ireland, employers still have to follow the statutory procedure for handling flexible working requests

To submit a request, employees can either put in a statutory request or a non-statutory request. A statutory request is a formal request that an employer must consider whereas a non-statutory request is less formal and your employer doesn’t have to respond. However, the benefit of making a non-statutory request is that there is no limit to the number of times you can make this request within a year. 

To fully understand the pros and cons of either submitting a statutory or non-statutory request, head to the Citizens Advice Website

How to make a statutory request for flexible working: 

An employee must write to the employer via email or letter. While not obligatory in England, Scotland, or Wales, an employer may ask that the employee uses this standard form.

What the letter must include: 

  • The date; 
  • A statement that this is a statutory request
  • Details of how the employee would like to work flexibly and when they need the new arrangement to start
  • An explanation of how the employee thinks flexible working might affect the business and how this can be navigated
  • A statement saying if and when the employee has made a previous application for flexible working

There’s no set deadline for an employer In England, Scotland, and Wales to reply. However, employers in Northern Ireland must arrange a follow-up meeting with the employee within 28 days of receiving their valid flexible working application.

For more detailed tips on how to submit or process a request for flexible working in Northern Ireland, visit the government’s website.  

To find more tips on how to ask for flexible working, create a free WORK180 account and download ‘The ultimate guide to negotiating flexible working conditions’.

Employers can also read our ultimate guide to offering best and next practice flexible working policies.

The right to fair working hours and conditions

The maximum hours an employee can work in a week

According to the government’s website, the standard number of working hours an employee should not exceed is 48. This is normally averaged over a period of 17 weeks. However, there are some exceptions:

The following jobs have different reference periods, for example:

  • trainee doctors have a 26-week reference peiod

  • the offshore oil and gas sector has a 52-week reference period

Most* employees can also choose to ‘opt out’ of the 48-hour workweek. This can be for a stipulated period of time or indefinitely and must be done voluntarily and in writing. An employer can also ask an employee to ‘opt out’ in order for them to work more hours, but an employer is not allowed to sack or treat an employee unfairly if they refuse this request. 

*employees who can’t opt out and so mustn’t exceed 48 hours of work in a week include:

  • airline staff;
  • workers on ships or boats;
  • workers in the road transport industry, such as delivery drivers, bus conductors, and vehicle security guards for the transportation of high-value goods.

Flexible working

From remote work to adjusted hours, flexibility is one of the most powerful ways in which companies can help every employee overcome workplace barriers and thrive. 

This isn’t just in a practical sense, such as opening up opportunities for those with disabilities or helping employees manage the domestic load (which disproportionately impacts many women); by normalizing flexibility for every employee, these approaches reduce the stigma attached to the practice for those that need it. This promotes shared responsibility of unpaid care, which is crucial in the fight for gender equity.

The information on this page has been compiled on the basis of general information current at the time of publication. 
Please note that the contents of webpage and any information provided by WORK180 do not constitute legal advice and are not intended to be a substitute for legal or other professional advice and should not be relied upon as such.

Your specific circumstances or changes in circumstances after publication may affect the completeness or accuracy of this information. You should seek legal advice or other professional advice in relation to any particular matters you or your organisation may haveTo the maximum extent permitted by law, we disclaim all liability for any errors or omissions contained in this information or any failure to update or correct this information. It is your responsibility to assess and verify the accuracy, completeness, currency and reliability of the information on this website, and to seek professional advice where necessary.