2. Weekly maximum working hours and opting out

Employers can’t force adults to work more than 48 hours a week on average - normally averaged over 17 weeks.


These rules don’t apply to jobs:

  • where the working time is not measured and the worker is in control - eg managing executives with control over their decisions
  • in the armed forces, emergency services and police - in some circumstances
  • in security and surveillance
  • as a domestic servant in a private household
  • where 24-hour staffing is required
  • certain categories of seafarers, sea-fishermen and workers on vessels on inland waterways

Other work sectors might have different rules on maximum working hours and workers should always speak to their employer.

If you’re a trainee doctor the 48-hour maximum working hours rule applies to you, averaged over 26 weeks.

Opting out of the 48-hour week

Workers 18 or over who want to work more than 48 hours a week, can choose to opt out of the 48-hour limit.

This could be for a certain period or indefinitely. It must be voluntary and in writing.

It can’t be contained in an agreement with the whole workforce. However, employers are allowed to ask individual workers if they’d be willing to opt out.

An employer shouldn’t sack or unfairly treat a worker (eg refused promotion) for refusing to sign an opt-out.

Workers who can’t opt out

Employers must not allow the following staff to opt out:

  • workers on ships or boats
  • airline staff
  • workers in the road transport industry, eg delivery drivers (except for drivers of vehicles under 3.5 tonnes using GB Domestic drivers’ hours rules)
  • other staff who travel in and operate vehicles covered by EU rules on drivers’ hours, eg bus conductors
  • security guards on a vehicle carrying high-value goods

Cancelling an opt-out agreement

A worker can cancel their opt-out agreement whenever they want - even if it’s part of their employment contract.

They must give their employer at least 7 days’ notice. This could be longer (up to 3 months) if the worker previously agreed this in the written opt-out agreement with the employer.

The employer isn’t allowed to force a worker to cancel their opt-out agreement.

Example of opt-out agreement:

I [worker’s name] agree that I may work for more than an average of 48 hours a week. If I change my mind, I will give my employer [amount of time - up to 3 months’] notice in writing to end this agreement. Signed…………………………………… Dated…………………………………….

16 and 17 year olds

16 and 17 year olds can’t normally work more than 8 hours a day or 40 hours a week.

The hours can’t be averaged out for 16 and 17 year olds. There is also no opt-out which means that they can’t work longer hours even if they want to.