This is how much overtime your boss can legally ask you to work - and how much you should be paid for it

Although being hard working is invariably seen to be a good quality in a person, being overworked is without doubt bad for us.

A report by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) found that, on average, British people work for 42 hours a week, which is almost two hours more than the EU average. And TUC secretary Frances O’Grady has said that the UK’s “long hours culture” is robbing staff of a satisfying homelife as “overwork, stress and exhaustion have become the new normal”.

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With this in mind, it is useful to know the rules around working longer hours than your contract states, and whether you should be paid more if you do.

How much should you have to work?

The law states that nobody should work more than 48 hours per week on average.

So, although during busy periods you may be asked to work longer than that, your employer should make sure you work less at other times to balance it out.

In order to calculate your average, you need to look at the last 17 weeks you have worked, including things like working lunches and training. The law also stipulates that everybody should have 11 uninterrupted hours away from work during any 24 hour period.

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What about overtime?

Overtime is any work done outside of the hours stated in your contract. It can be either voluntary or compulsory, depending on how the rules are outlined in your contract.

In the case of voluntary overtime, there is no obligation for you to accept it, and your employer does not have to offer it.

Compulsory overtime is written into your contract. This could mean that on certain days where your employer knows it will be busy, the overtime is prescribed to cover those particular times, and you agree to it by signing your contract.

This can come as guaranteed or non-guaranteed. The difference between these is that the former has definite time periods, as the employer knows exactly how much extra you will be needed for at certain times.

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When overtime is non-guaranteed this is because your employer knows you will be needed for extra time at certain points in the year, however the exact amount of time is not known in advance. The contract simply states that the worker will need to work longer hours during these periods.


It is possible to opt out of the 48 hours cap, and to do so you need to explain in writing to your employer. You are also free to go back on this at any time, and your employer is not allowed to pressure you to do either of these things.

Some jobs are also exempt from the working hours limit due to the nature of the work. This includes some security roles, workers on board sea transport or sea-fishing vessels, the emergency services and armed forces in an emergency.

And other jobs have rules in place where you are not able to opt out of the hours cap. These include airline workers, road transport workers and security guards on vehicles with high-value loads.

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Paid overtime

Whether or not you get paid for overtime is entirely down to what your contract says. There is no legal requirement for your employer to pay you if you voluntarily choose to stay late.

Some will give a set rate for hours worked over time, and others will offer time in lieu - holiday in return for the extra hours worked at some points.

Government guidance says that your average pay should not fall below minimum wage for the hours you work.