Business Category Business: career motivation and tips to move ahead

How many hours can I legally work in a day?

The majority of UK workers have the right to work no more than 48 hours per week, according to the European Working Time Directive. When spread over a typical five-day working week, this works out at 9.6 hours per day. This law exist to protect employees from being over-worked.

Maximum contracted hours

Although European law limits employers to contracting employees to more than 48 hours work per week, many employers contract their staff to fewer. According to the Office for National Statistics, the average UK working week was 42.7 hours in 2011, which works out at just over 8.5 hours. Workers can’t be forced to work longer hours than stipulated in their contract, but they may do so voluntarily, for example if work remains unfinished or they are required to cover. In many cases, employers will offer time off in lieu or overtime payments.


Some jobs are exempt from the European Working Time Directive. Such jobs include those in the armed forces, police, private security, domestic service, jobs where 24-hour cover is required, fishing and jobs at sea. Similarly, some executive positions where the person in question is in charge can be exempt. Where jobs become dangerous if the employee is prolongued to extensive periods of work, the European Working Time Directive stipulates how the hours are divided up. Truck drivers for example can’t work more than an average of 60 hours per week, but must have an uninterrupted break of at least 30 minutes for every 6 to 9 hours worked.


Every employee is entitled to a break. However, the length and type of break to which they are entitled varies according to their work. Anyone with a job where they work more than 6 hours per day is entitled to a minimum of a 20 minute, uninterrupted break, although many employers will offer more than this. Workers are also entitled to 11 hours rest between shifts and one period of 24 hours where they are not required to work at all.

Opting out

Anyone can opt out of the European Working Time directive if they wish to. For example, if work is deadline driven, workers may find that their workload is higher at certain times and lower at others, meaning they sometimes work over the weekly minimum and sometimes work less than it. An employer can’t discipline or unfairly treat an employee that refuses to opt out of the 48 hour working week.

Self employment

Those who are self employed are not protected by the same rights as employed people. Therefore a self employed worker can work as many or as few hours as they wish. Typically, self employed workers aim to emulate the working patterns of their contracted counterparts in order to achieve a similar work life balance, but in many cases, self employed people will work longer hours to ensure that the work they are doing gets finished on time.