Employment Law

Christmas overtime: How long can staff work for?

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In some sectors, there is no getting away from the fact that overtime during the Christmas period is likely to be a necessity. The retail, hospitality, healthcare and leisure industries to mention a few, can involve employees putting in extra hours and evening work.
Often, employers who can anticipate an increase in working hours at this time of year will build provision into their employees’ contracts of employment placing them under a requirement to work any additional hours by way of overtime as per business needs. Although an express contractual right in this regard will certainly assist an employer to justify any request for additional work or overtime to be undertaken, an awareness of the Working Time Regulations will still be required.
The Working Time Regulations apply to all employees and to the majority of part time and temporary workers and agency workers.  In fact, they are likely to apply to everyone who works for you save for those who are genuinely self-employed.
Requirements of the Working Time Regulations
In essence, the Regulations provide for the following:
48 Hour Working Week – There is a complete limit on working hours and employees should not work more than 48 hours per week. There is a little flexibility here because the Regulations provide for a 17 week reference period and provided the employee doesn’t work more than 48 hours on average over the course of this period they will not be in breach of their obligations. Employees can opt out of the 48 hour working week but an employer cannot require an employee to do this.
During the festive period then, provided employees who do end up working in excess of the 48 weekly limit during the busiest times are then given fewer hours and more days off  when the festivities die down, overtime over the Christmas period may not constitute a regulatory breach.
Daily rest breaks – Workers have the right to daily rest of 11 consecutive hours. In practice this means that an employer who works until midnight should not start work again until 11am the following day.  There is some flexibility in the legislation where a worker changes a shift pattern and is not able to take his full 11 hour break before starting the new pattern however, when planning a rota it is important to ensure that adequate daily rest is afforded to affected workers. Similarly, if the working day is longer than six hours there is also a right to an uninterrupted rest break of 20 minutes during the six hour period.  Employers should ensure that staff do take the required daily breaks to ensure that there are no breaches of any associated Health & Safety legislation.
Weekly rest break – As well as daily rest, workers have the right to an uninterrupted rest period of not less than 24 hours each week or one uninterrupted rest period of 48 hours over a 14 day period.  Over Christmas then, staff could work 12 days in a row but they must then have 2 days off.
Night work – Where staff usually work more than 3 hours between 11pm and 6am then they are classified as “night workers” under the Working Time Regulations.  Night workers have a slightly different entitlement to rest and they must not work more than an average of 8 hours in a 24 hour period.  Night workers must receive a free health assessment before starting night work and at regular intervals after that. If, over Christmas you are likely to require an increase in “night work”, so ensure that you have appropriate systems in place for monitoring rest.
Overall, the obligations placed on employers when it comes to adequate rest from work can be met quite easily with a bit of careful planning. Keep an open dialogue with your employees in terms of your expectations with regards to any overtime over the Christmas period and do ensure that those employees who do work extra in the coming weeks are compensated with additional rest in the New Year.
If you want to discuss your overtime arrangements or, your obligations under the Working Time Regulations 1998 then please do not hesitate to contact a member of the Employment Law team on 01274 864999.

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