How many hours can an employer force you to work?

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filthiestfis | 02:20 Tue 14th Jul 2009 | Law
13 Answers
Can an employer make you work continuously for long periods of time with only the minimum breaks, and for how long?
If we go by the maximum 48 hours a week which they can force you to do unless you agree to do more, can they make you work 4 x 12 hour shifts in 4 days? Or even 3x 16 hour shifts!? I mean...where does it all end? If you, as the employee speak up and say that you do not want to work so many hours at a time, can you be sacked?


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I'd love to work 3 x 16 hour shifts! 48 hours pay but with 4 days off per week sounds just great to me!

(Back in my student days I worked 7 x 16 hour shifts for 10 weeks in a row. 112 hours per week certainly helped my bank balance! I've also worked 24 hours on, 12 hours off for long periods).

However the current regulations make working three 16 hours shifts on successive days, at the same times an illegal employment practice because of the requirement to have 11 hours rest between the end of one working day and the start of another. However three 16 hour shifts in a week is not illegal, per se, as long as the shifts are spaced far enough apart to provide 11 hour rest breaks. The rules on night-working might also be relevant.

For full details, see here: es/WorkingHoursAndTimeOff/index.htm

Chris' answer is (as always) the correct interpretation of the Working Time Directive. However that is the statutory position - what the law says the employer must or mustn't do.
However you are not legally obliged to work more than your contracted hours - so if your contract says you will work 37 hours, that's all you HAVE to do.
Now, a couple of issues with that.
1) In these uncertain times, some employers put-upon employees to work more, with a (unsaid) threat of 'you'll be dismissed if you don't'. Only you can judge the likely probability of that.
2) You may be on a zero hours contract. These work 2 ways - the employer isn't obliged to offer you work, and if offered, you aren't obliged to take all of it. But now refer back to point 1).
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If the employer threatens to dismiss you or actually goes ahead with it, because you dont want to work more than your hours, isn't this classed as unfair dismissal?
Depends on contract terms......if the job doesn't suit - leave!

Tribunals can go either way, especially if the employer can prove a contract or other employees working similar hours.
Depends on contract terms......if the job doesn't suit - leave!

There speaks the mill owner.

The reason for things like the working time directive is to protect the health of employees - who cannot simply leave especially in this economic climate and need protection from exploitative and unscupulous employers.

If you don't like it tamborine i suggest you leave - plenty of opportunities to set up sweat shops in the far East I hear

jake....hardly exploitative - too many whingeing employees!

Slavery days are gone - no whip cracking of labor force anymore. Look at BA staff who took a pay cut to keep their jobs afloat. Look at your hospital cleaners who take jobs but dodge continuously.

Not easy for employers either.
Theres the great saying " needs of the business" if the business needs an employee to help an dbe cooperative and they arent , this would be taken into account at the tribunal , if there was one.

If you have a job youre getting paid and theyre wanting you to work more then you are one of a lucky minority in these current times of the credit crisis.
Please tell me what your contracted hours are, Fi, if you want further help with this from me.
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Contrated hours are 30 a week and being rotered to work 48 hours, sometimes slightly more even though not agreed to it. Also, quite often they are breaking the rules and giving me less than 11 hours rest between breaks.
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Whoever says that the days of slave labour are gone is smoking crack.
It is easy to say so when you are not being pressured and bullied by your employer into dropping everything for the sake of work and being given excessive hours with skipped breaks and few hours of break in between shifts.

Perhaps the office workers who get to work 9-5 with perhaps a few hours of overtime each week sitting by their desk are fortunate enough to be able to judge and look down upon the rest of us.

As for "If you dont like it then leave!" remarks from certain people...well, that is not easy to do when you have no job lined up and not enough time or energy to be looking for for a new one whilst being exploited in your current one.
So let's not hear anymore ignorant comments like:
" Plenty of people would love to be doing your job. Stop being lazy!"
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*sitting at their desks
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*sitting on a chair at their desk*
Statutory rules on breaks are here. es/WorkingHoursAndTimeOff/DG_10029451
Then look at the linked page on employers' health and safety responsibilities - particularly the section at the bottom caled 'What to do next'.
Probably not go in guns blazing with 'you're not allowed to roster me like this under the WT Directive'. Perhaps better to approach it with 'look I'm really committed to this company and the job but I'm finding the gaps between the breaks rather short - is there anything we could do about it? Follow that with 'what are the legal minimums for this?'
Try and find out whether they are mere ignoramouses or simply out to exploit people whatever. At the end of the day, you can report them to the Health & safety Executive.

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