Working Time Regulations

All types of employment are subject to specific laws and regulations, including the number of hours your employer can ask you to work.

These rules, known as working time regulations, determine the maximum hours your employer can legally ask you to work weekly.

The maximum number of hours is 48, which is why you might have heard the phrase the 48-hour weekly working limit.

But there are some nuances, which we’ll explore in detail below.

What is the 48-hour working week?

The 48-hour weekly limit is the maximum number of hours employers can ask their employees to work contractually. For employees under 18, the maximum limit is 40 hours.

However, those over 18 can opt out of the 48-hour maximum, increasing their working hours and their take-home pay.

Who does the 48-hour weekly limit apply to?

Almost all workers over 18 – including umbrella workers – are subject to the limit.

But there are a few exceptions, including the armed forces and emergency services.

What counts towards the 48-hour working limit?

As well as the working hours specified in your contract, all of the following contribute to your total hours worked each week:


Paid voluntary overtime counts towards your weekly time limit. That said, voluntary unpaid overtime – like working late to finish something – doesn’t count towards your total.

Travelling for work

If you don’t have a fixed place of work – for example, travel to multiple locations – then your travel time counts towards your limit.

But this doesn’t include regular commutes to and from one location.

Working on call

Time spent on call counts towards your weekly limit, but only if it’s spent on call at the workplace rather than at home or elsewhere.

Working from home

Working from home counts towards your weekly maximum hours, as you’re carrying out your work duties from a different location.

How average weekly working hours are calculated

The 48-hour limit is calculated as an average over a 17-week period. In some weeks, you might work up to or beyond 48 hours – but you would be expected to work fewer hours in subsequent weeks to stay below the average.

Opting out of the 48-hour weekly limit

You can opt out of the 48-hour weekly limit if you prefer. Or your employer can ask you to opt out – but you’re under no obligation to agree.

If you choose to opt-out, you’ll sign an opt-out agreement, which is separate from your employment contract.

Can you change your mind and opt back in?

Yes, but you’ll need to give your employer 7 days notice unless you’ve agreed on a different timeframe.

Can your employer make you work more than 48 hours per week?

In short, no. 48 hours is the legal weekly maximum. You’re under no obligation to work beyond your contracted hours.

Does the 48-hour weekly limit apply to umbrella company employees?

Yes, umbrella workers are also subject to the 48-hour weekly limit. As employees of the umbrella company, they’re entitled to the same protections as other workers. For example, maternity pay, paternity pay and sickness benefits

In summary, the 48-hour weekly working limit is the maximum number of hours you can work unless you’ve opted out of the directive. If you opt-out, you can opt back in any time.

The rules apply whether you’re an umbrella worker or otherwise employed.

If you have any questions about the 48-hour weekly limit and how it impacts you as an umbrella employee, please get in touch.

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