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Working time regulations and signing a working hours waiver

  • January 12, 2022

The EWTD (European Working Time Directive) is an EU initiative to prevent employers from requiring their workforce to work excessively long hours, with implications for health and safety. The UK version of the EWTD is also known as the WTR (Working Time Regulations).

The EWTD requires the working week to be an average of 48 hours, with further rights relating to break periods and holiday allowance, such as:  

  • 11 hours rest a day
  • a day off each week
  • a rest break if the working day is longer than six hours
  • 5.6 weeks paid leave each year.

It has applied to consultants and career grade staff since October 1998.

Opting out and signing a working hours waiver

Although doctors are now covered by the EWTD, it is still possible for doctors to work longer hours by signing an opt-out clause. 

Given that the EWTD aims to improve health and safety, they ensure that a number of conditions must be met if the opt-out is to remain part of the legislation: any opt-out must be truly voluntary, with no undue pressure or coercion exerted on doctors to work outside the directive’s hours and rest requirements. Further, an opt-out should neither be a necessity for a post nor form part of any contract.

Consultants and the Working Time Directive

All consultants are covered by these entitlements, and employers have a legal obligation to implement them – strict penalties are imposed by the Health and Safety Executive for non-implementation.

The WTR, which implements the EWTD in law, came into force on 1 October 1998, with full compliance by 2009. These safeguards are particularly relevant to workers in the health service:

  • a limit of an average of 48 hours worked per week, over a reference period
  • a limit of 8 hours worked in every 24-hour period for night work
  • a weekly rest period of 24 hours every week
  • an entitlement to 11 hours consecutive rest per day
  • an entitlement to a minimum 20-minute rest break where the working day is longer than 6 hours
  • a requirement on the employer to keep records of hours worked.

What is compensatory rest?

The regulations allow employers to exclude the provisions in relation to length of night work, daily rest, weekly rest and rest breaks if compensatory rest is provided. This means that where rest is delayed or interrupted by work, compensatory rest must be granted.

It is not possible to opt out of the rest requirements, so doctors still need to ensure they take the necessary breaks, and their employer still needs to monitor the hours they work.

Junior doctors and opting out

For junior doctors, it means:

  • working hours have been reduced from an average of 56 per week to 48, calculated over a period of 26 weeks. Doctors can choose to work additional hours if they wish.
  • a period of 11 hours continuous rest a day (or compensatory rest to be taken another time if this is not achieved)
  • a day off each week , or two days off in each fortnight (or compensatory rest)
  • a 20-minute rest break every six hours (or compensatory rest).

In addition, to the above requirements junior doctors are also protected by the safety and rest requirements of either the 2002 or 2016 junior doctor contract, whichever they may be employed under.

How can we help?

If you are an international Doctor who would like to relocate to the UK, email your CV to [email protected] and we can support you in securing an NHS post and on your relocation journey to the UK.

Are you a member of our Facebook group? When you join IMG Advisor, you join a community of doctors all looking to relocate to the UK and join the NHS. We post a series of blogs and vlogs to the group each day. We will also be on hand to answer all of your relocation queries.

Subscribe to our YouTube channel! We have over 60 videos covering everything you need to know about relocating to the UK and joining the NHS.

Listen to BDI Resourcing on the go with IMG Advisor the Podcast! You can listen to us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher and Buzzsprout. We have a number of episodes with tips and advice on relocating to the UK and the routes you can take to achieve this.

Finally, we also have Instagram, so if you are a member, feel free to follow us to view our posts and IGTV: @bdiresourcing

References, 2022. Doctors and the European Working Time Directive. [online] The British Medical Association is the trade union and professional body for doctors in the UK. Available at: [Accessed 11 January 2022].


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