Different rules often apply when it comes to contractors and freelancers across a number of issues and requirements such as how tax is paid, how much tax is paid, which umbrella company in the UK you sign up with and much more.
However, the same rules do apply across the board when it comes to worker’s rights, which are covered comprehensively by the Working Time Directive.
As a contractor or freelancer in the UK, there are many aspects of your working life that you need to take control of to make things work for you. However, when it comes to your basic rights as a worker, it is important you understand where you stand.
You should always ensure that even as a contract or freelance worker, you have some rights which you employer as well as recruiter will at times need to abide by.
But what exactly is this piece of legislation, how does it work in practice, and how does it affect you?
What is The Working Time Directorate?
The Working Time Regulations 1998 were implemented as part of the European Working Time Directive into UK law. This provides all workers and employees in the UK, certain rights when it comes to numbers of hours that they work, to ensure they do not develop problems with their health (and safety) due to having worked excessively long hours.
It acts in a sense as a form of insurance for contractors and freelancers to fall back upon if need be.
This includes the following:
- All workers and employees should have a weekly rest day that is 24 hours long, all within a seven day period. Alternatively, workers are be entitled to receive a fortnightly rest period that is 48 hours (these must be consecutive) within a 14 day period.
- Young workers who are aged between 15 and 18, are entitled to 48 hours in total per seven working days
- Workers and employees should receive a daily rest period. This should total 11 hours from finishing your job until starting the next day. An additional hour is taken into account if the person is between the ages of 15 and 18
- Equivalent compensatory rest is something that any workers who do not receive the aforementioned rest breaks are entitled to
- If your working day is longer than 6 hours, you must receive a break of at least 20 minutes. This changes to a minimum of 30 minutes if you are aged between 15 and 18 years old, and have worked more than 4.5 hours in one go, as opposed to 6 hours if you are older
Limits to Contracted Working Hours
This directive implements legislation regarding the amount of time all workers and employees can work each week across the UK. The regulations state it is illegal for you to work any time over 48 hours in total each week. It is important that just as with personal taxes in the UK, that you are aware of the restrictions and limitations of this directorate.
In most cases, this is assessed over the course of a 17 week reference period, but not in all circumstances. For example, it is possible for this to be amended or reconsidered under a special set of circumstances, or under a collective agreement.
For example, as a contractor, you may, in agreement with your client or employer, work longer than 48 hours in fewer days and then take a longer rest period before commencing your next project. As a UK umbrella company, we can help our employees with managing this directorate and their working rights.
What Constitutes ‘Work’?
If a freelancer or contractor, you utilise umbrella company services or not, you will be well aware that jobs can differ hugely. You will also likely be aware of what can in reality constitute a ‘working week.’
If you are trying to calculate the number of hours that you work each week, take into consideration the following information and that a working week may include any of the following:
- Paid overtime worked
- Time spent working abroad as part of your job
- Training related to your job
- Time spent travelling (when travelling is an integral part of your job for example, as a sales representative)
- Working lunches
- Any time that is seen as ‘working time’ under a contract
- Unpaid overtime that you are asked to do
What Doesn’t Constitute ‘Work’?
At the same time, you should also take into account what does not constitute part of your working week:
- Paid or unpaid holiday
- Travel that is outside of typical working hours
- Volunteering for unpaid overtime
- Lunch breaks
- Any time that is spent on call away from your workplace
What if I Have More Than One Job?
It is common for most freelancers and contractors to be carrying out work for a number of different sources and employers or clients. In such cases, the working time directive still applies. The total of your combined working hours must not be on average higher than 48 hours on a weekly basis.
If you have calculated your hours and time worked and find that you do in fact work more than 48 hours on average, then you have two options:
- Reduce your hours so that they fit within the rules of the directive
- Sign an opt-out agreement
Can You opt Out of the 48 Hour Working Week?
It is still possible for you to decide to sign an opt out agreement if you want to work more than 48 hours a week on average, and also if you are over the age of 18. The length of time that you opt out for is up to you, it can be just for a certain period, or you may decide to opt out indefinitely.
Common examples of jobs and workers who it may benefit to opt out include:
- Train drivers (for overtime)
- Police Special Constables (who work hours outside of their ‘day jobs’)
- Freelancers and contractors looking to greatly increase their income
- Working nights (often if there is unsociable hours or additional pay for doing so)
Whatever you decide to do, you must ensure that this is in writing and that you are doing so on a voluntary basis. It is also possible for you to cancel this agreement at a later date if you wish to do so.