Working Time Directive (UK)

In the UK, the Working Time Directive (WTD) is a law that dictates, among other things, the maximum number of hours an employee can work per week and the minimum period of rest employees are entitled to between their shifts.

The terms “Working Time Directive” and “Working Time Regulations” are often used interchangeably, but the former was technically introduced by the European Union in 1993, while the latter became UK law in 1998.

Employers are responsible for ensuring that they and their business adhere to this legislation — failure to do so could result in a fine or legal action being taken against them.

Maximum working hours under the Working Time Directive

Under UK law, staff must not work more than 48 hours per week on average unless they voluntarily “opt out” or waive their right to work fewer than 48 hours in a seven-day period.

Some fluctuation is allowed, however. An employee can work more than 48 hours per week from time to time, but they must not exceed an average of 48 hours per week during any 17-week period. For this reason it’s vital that employers keep accurate records of the hours their staff work, as they may need to provide this information to prove that their staff have not worked more than they’re supposed to.

Employees under the age of 18, meanwhile, must not work more than 40 hours per week (eight hours per day, five days per week).

Minimum rest period between shifts

Under the Working Time Directive, UK workers have the right to at least 11 hours’ rest between working days. If an employee finishes work at 8pm, for example, then their next shift should not start any earlier than before 7am the next day.

As well as to give employees enough time to rest and recover between shifts (it’s recommended that we sleep at least eight hours in any 24-hour period to be at our best), the reason for this mandatory gap is to allow staff time to travel to and from their homes, to socialise, study, or care for dependants — the kind of things that many of us enjoy or have to do alongside working our everyday jobs.

How to record employee working hours

In order to make sure their business complies with the Working Time Directive, employers should keep accurate records of the hours their staff work. In fact, all UK employers are required by law to keep a record of their staff’s working hours for a minimum of two years.

There are a number of ways that employers can do this:

1. Calculate total hours based on the rota

This might seem like the simplest method, but keep in mind that the work rota (also known as a roster or schedule) doesn’t take into account days when staff work late (overtime), arrive late for work, or miss a shift due to illness. In such cases, managers will have to amend their rotas retroactively to keep track of the hours their staff actually worked.

2. Paper timesheets

Paper timesheets are cheap and easy to create, but they’ll either need to be stored securely for the minimum term (which can take up a lot of space!) or have their contents manually entered into a spreadsheet or online document, which can take a lot of time and is prone to error. Paper timesheets can also leave your business open to time theft, and can easily be lost or damaged.

3. Digital timesheets

By using modern time and attendance software, staff can clock in and out of their shifts quickly and easily via a terminal or mobile app. Each of these clock-in records is automatically added to employees’ individual timesheets, which are stored securely online, ready for their managers to check or run payroll — with no data entry required.

Online rota software

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