Wages and working hours in the UK are regulated by both statutes such as the Working Time Directive and the legislation surrounding the National Minimum Wage, and also by contractual agreements made between the specific employer and individual. Because of this crossover, understanding your rights at work can sometimes feel rather tricky. Your direct manager or HR contact should be able to help you with your queries, but having an understanding of your rights at work can certainly help you feel confident to challenge and resolve any issues you face.
To help guide you through the process, this article includes statutory guidance and contacts to help you if you are struggling with a query at work.
See also: UK Employment Law - Know Your Rights
1. Understand Your Rights - Maximum Weekly Hours
The Working Time Regulations in the UK dictate that workers should not have to work over an average of 48 hours per week unless they want to do so. In the case of younger workers, aged only 16 or 17 years old, the maximum working week is 40 hours, and these younger employees cannot choose to opt out of the regulatory framework and add in extra working hours if they want. Usually, the average is calculated over 17 weeks, and the regulations apply to most occupations, barring those such as live-in domestic work, surveillance and security services who can work above this level without needing to opt out. At the other end of the spectrum, there are certain occupations such as those involved in driving, where long working hours may compromise safety, and these workers are not entitled to opt out of the maximum working week at all. If you choose to opt out of the maximum working week, this must be done in writing, and can be a permanent or temporary arrangement. Employers must not treat individuals unfairly if they choose to opt out and cannot include this clause in a general agreement that applies to all their employees. However, employers can approach specific individuals and ask them if they would be prepared to opt out of the maximum working week to support the business. You can find more details about different sectors, and how to opt out of the maximum working week, at the UK Government website.
2. Know Your Rights as a Night Worker
There are additional rules and regulations that cover your employment if you are a night worker, and employers should not discriminate against employees who refuse to work overtime or additional shifts at night times. If you work regularly overnight, you are classed as a night worker and should be offered a free health assessment before starting in this role. Additionally, the controls on the average number of hours worked overnight are strict – usually not more than an average of 8 hours a night, or 40 hours per week. For more information, see this page on the UK Government website.
3. How to Calculate Overtime and Rest Breaks
Employees should not be forced to work overtime unless the employment contract specifies overtime requirements. Employers do not have to pay for overtime worked, but must ensure that the overall average pay does not fall beneath the National Minimum Wage; time off in lieu is sometimes offered instead of additional pay, for example. More details can be found here. Part time workers should not be treated less favorably when it comes to overtime, and employers should not withhold overtime opportunities from their workers, for example by allowing certain groups to apply to work additional hours and not allowing others. The rules surrounding rest breaks are very clearly set out here. Employees should be able to take at least a 20-minute break in a 6-hour daily shift, and 11 hours between shifts. They should also be allowed at least one day off per week, or two days over a two-week period. Individual employment contracts may differ, and you should talk to your manager if you have any concerns about either your overtime arrangements or your rest breaks within work.
4. Understanding the National Minimum Wage
The National Minimum Wage started in the UK in 2005, and currently stands at £6.50 for workers over the age of 21. It is reviewed annually and also includes separate categories of minimum wages for younger workers and those who are undergoing an apprentice scheme. At present, the minimum hourly rate for under 18-year-olds is£3.79, and the minimum for those aged between 18 and 21 is£5.13. If you are an apprentice aged 16-18, or 19 and over and in your first year of training, the minimum wage is£3 per hour. Of course, many people earn an hourly wage higher than this amount, which will be detailed in the employment contract. If you earn a salary, which is set on a monthly or annual basis rather than with an hourly rate, your average hourly wage should not fall beneath the National Minimum Wage as described above.
5. Know Where to Get Help and More Details
The legislation regarding working hours and wages in the UK is clear but can be complicated, especially where contractual terms are different to statutory minimum terms, and in certain niche jobs which fall outside the mainstream. However, help is at hand. There are lots of handy basic details on the legalities of work on the UK Government website which is easy to navigate and understand. If you have an issue, then there is further information at the Citizens Advice Bureau which can also help with specific queries and issues, as can Acas, the arbitration and conciliation service. Contact either of these bodies directly if you feel you need more help about an issue at work.
Employment law is complex and can feel confusing, but there is plenty of information and help out there if you need it. Don’t sit and worry about issues at work regarding pay and working hours, but talk to your employer, your HR contact or one of the public bodies above who can help you understand your rights and resolve any issues before they become big problems.