Regulations will impose strict time-keeping laws on employers.
Employers will face dramatic new obligations and administrative burdens under the new Working Time Regulations coming into force in October.
Most employees will be prohibited from working more than 48 hours a week.
This limit will be averaged over 17 weeks (or exceptionally, 26 or 52 weeks), and the reference period should be specified in the employee's contract. Employers must keep records for two years, which show that they have complied with the regulations.
In addition, employers will be required to give all employees, including casuals, three weeks paid holiday, rising to four weeks from November 1999. Staff will be entitled to at least 20 minutes break on any shift of six or more hours, 11 consecutive hours rest in every 24 hours (12 for under 18s), and two days off in every 14 days. Night workers will be limited to working a maximum of eight hours in every 24. They should also be given regular medical check-ups and moved to the day shift if these check-ups reveal that night working is adversely affecting their health.
Individuals can opt out of the 48-hour limit by individual or collective agreement with their employer, although the EU plans to scrap this. The opt-out must be in writing, specifying terms agreed for any overtime pay or inducement. It should also state the notice (up to three months) that the employee must give to opt back in. Employers should consider putting opt-out clauses in all new employment contracts and can approach existing staff to discuss the possibility of opting out.
Individuals can enforce their rights through the industrial tribunal, or the Health and Safety Executive. Alternatively, local authorities can take criminal proceedings against the employer. Employers should not penalise employees for asserting their rights. The Regulations apply to most businesses, except transport workers, junior doctors and some areas of the armed forces and police. For the most part, they will not apply to domestic staff and senior executives.
Paul Nicholls is an employment law partner at Dibb Lupton Alsop
0161 235 4100.