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HJI Working Hours - Myths and Legends


I am often contacted with questions about working hours. Often, both salon owners and employees, say they “have heard that” and then quote some extraordinary rule. For example everyone is entitled to one tea break per day.

In this feature we will look at the range of questions and what the law says. This is an area where the law is crystal clear and there is little scope for interpretations.

Many of the laws emanate from the Working Time Regulations and were introduced in 1999 as a health and safety measure to ensure staff received rest through breaks, time off and holidays.

Q1 Is it correct that my stylists cannot work more than 48 hours a week?

The European Working Time Directive sets a maximum 48 hour week; this can be assessed as an average over 17 weeks. However employees can agree to opt out of this limit but can withdraw their agreement with 7 days notice. Young workers (those under 18 years of age) are limited to a 40 hour week. Self employed individuals are not subject to the 48 hour ceiling.

Q2 My new Salon manager wants me to work a 6 days week, can I check if that is legal?

Legally workers must have at least one day off per week or 2 consecutive days per fortnight.

Young workers aged under 18 must have 2 days off per week i.e. they can only work a five day week.

Q3 I want to open late in the run up to Christmas but is there a limit on how many hours the stylists can work per day?

I think you also need to consider how long they can be productive for, all the evidence is that performance starts to fall away as employees tire. But the answer to your question is employees must have a minimum 11 hours break between shifts; that is the time they finish and start the next day therefore. The maximum number of hours for their working day is 13.

Q4 What are the rules about tea breaks, is it one in the morning and one in the afternoon?

I am afraid it is neither. The only legal right is for a 20 minute break, which is the meal break, when a shift exceeds six hours. This can be paid or unpaid and it is up to the employer to decide this in the contract. Once again there are different rules for young workers; they must be allowed a 30 minute break after four and a half hours. In reality few employers give a paid break but the duration of breaks varies dramatically.

Of course you could give 30 minutes for lunch and then two unpaid breaks for a cup of tea if you wished but it extends the working day for staff. In reality most staff manage to fit in a drink in their working day.

There are no further legal break entitlement, so if the shift is 12 hours there need not be two 20 minute breaks.

Q5, Do I have a right to request a smoking break?

Staff can request one but there is no legal requirement to be given one. Many salons simply ban smoking. Some allow smoking during lunch breaks but then require the staff to change out of their uniform. I even know of a few salons where staff have traded their lunch break for a morning and afternoon smoking break. An employer could always agree to smoking breaks if they wished to but these would be unpaid.

Q6 Can I insist on my staff working on a Sunday?

This is a little more complex. Basically, in the first two months of their employment new staff should be advised of the right to opt out of any Sunday working if you open on a Sunday. This should be in writing.

If they choose to do so they are protected from being penalised if they do so.

At any stage in their employment staff can opt out of Sunday working subject to giving 3 months notice in writing. Of course, this means they suffer reduced hours and pay.

Workers who were employed before 26th august 1994 have long standing protection and cannot be forced to work on a Sunday unless they were employed to work Sundays only.

David Wright Personnel

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