Working time counts as the time employees are actually at work performing their duties. Workplace training also counts, and travelling counts if it's to visit clients (i.e. not when travelling to and from work and home).
UK law contains working time regulations that have been put in place with the health and safety of employees in mind.
While employers can agree with employees that the employees will opt out of them, these are the general rules:
1. An employee's working week should not be longer than 48 hours on average
2. Every 6 hours of work should contain a minimum 20-minute break
3. Employees between school-leaving age and 18 should have a 30-minute break every 4.5 hours
4. Employees should have an 11-hour rest period every 24 hours
5. There must be at least 1 day off work per week
6. Full-time workers (those working 5 or more days a week) are legally entitled to 5.6 weeks (28 days) of paid leave each year. (These 28 days can include bank holidays.) There is no extra statutory entitlement for workers doing a 6-day week
7. Part-time workers are legally entitled to 5.6 weeks of paid holiday too, but it works out as less than 28 days (pro-rata) because they work fewer hours each week. (So, for example, someone working 3 days a week would in fact be entitled to a minimum of 16.8 days of paid holiday.) The government has a really handy tool for working out part-time workers' holiday entitlements. Helpfully, it can also be used to calculate the entitlement of those working less regular hours/shifts, and for parts of the year, not a full year
8. For night workers or those in particularly hazardous jobs, their working day mustn't exceed 8 hours, and night workers can't opt out of the regulations
Compliance with the regulations, and the calculation of 'average' is usually measured over a 17-week reference period and should take into account leave periods. If work isn't regular, the assessment can be extended up to 52 weeks if both you, as the employer, and the employee agree.
There is no let up on the 48-hour working week, even if there is an emergency, for example, a big order comes in or there is a flood at the office, and everyone is needed to work exceptional hours for the business to keep going. However, in these circumstances, the assessment reference period can be extended to 26 weeks. Those workers who put in the additional 'emergency' hours, would still be entitled to the equivalent time off for putting in those extra days over the weekend, unless they are opted out of the regulations.
Workers are also entitled to the following rights from their employers:
1. To be paid for leave (within the statutory minimum entitlements listed above - not for any additional leave, unless contractually agreed)
2. To not have any pay deducted for leave taken over and above the statutory entitlement unless previously agreed in writing with the employer. (Employment contracts and handbooks often cover this to prevent problems arising)
3. To continue to build up (accrue) leave entitlements during maternity, paternity or adoption leave and/or during sick leave
4. To request holiday entitlement at the same time as sick leave
5. To take the remainder of any statutory holiday entitlement during a notice period
The only time that an employee can legally be paid instead of taking their statutory holiday entitlement (called 'payment in lieu') is when they leave the business. If you're planning to give your employees more holiday than the statutory limit, you can set different rules around whether untaken leave can be sacrificed in return for its value in money.
It's important that employees are able to take their full statutory annual holiday entitlement during the year in which it falls due. Carry-over over any additional contractual entitlement is fine, provided that this is agreed between the employer and the employee. The only time carry-over of the minimum statutory entitlement is permitted in part or full is if the employee has been on maternity/paternity/adoption leave. A maximum of 4 weeks carry-over of untaken statutory holiday entitlement must be permitted in relation to an employee on sick leave.
How much notice of time off should an employee give?
There are rules around this too - including where you have the right to refuse an employee's request for holiday entitlement.
Twice as long as the period requested - employee requests
While a contract can vary this by agreement, the general requirement is that the length of notice given must be at least twice as long as the period of holiday requested.
So, at least 2 weeks' notice should be given for a request of a week off.
As long as the period requested - employer refusals
If you need to refuse the request, you must also give a minimum time frame for that notice: the rule being the same amount of time as the time off that's requested.
So, if the employee requests 5 days off, you must give at least 5 days' notice of your refusal to agree.
However, you must permit employees to take annual leave at some point and you should always have good reason for a refusal, e.g. too many other members of staff already booked off at the same time, causing business/workforce instability.
If you need to prevent leave being taken at particularly busy periods or to enforce leave being taken over bank holidays or major holidays, for example, make sure your contract terms include these provisions. Without employee agreement in writing to these kinds of requests, you cannot otherwise enforce them.
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