Contracted Hours in the UK: Definition, Examples, and Regulations

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The purpose of this guide is to explain the concept of contracted hours in the UK and how this compares to actual working hours.

What are contracted hours?

Contract hours refer to the agreed number of hours the employer has agreed to provide and pay the employee. A contracted hour is also the number of hours an employee is expected to work during a regular work week, except when other arrangements have been made, such as a shift swap with a colleague. If your employer cannot provide the minimum number of hours, they must pay you in lieu.

Useful Read: Understanding PILON: Your Rights and Entitlements

Usually, the number of hours worked is stipulated in the employee's contract or employment agreement. However, holidays and sickness often cause actual hours to vary from the contracted ones.

For instance, if the employee's contract stipulates 35 hours of work per week, the employer must ensure the employee can complete that work. This will result in them breaching the contract. Additionally, an employee could violate their employment contract for not working their full 35 hours.

What is the difference between contracted hours & actual hours?

Employees' contracted hours are usually outlined in their contract of employment when they start their new job. The contract will say how, when, and where hours will be worked, including holidays and sick days. Some employees work fewer hours than their contracted hours per week depending on their job. Actual hours are how many hours someone worked.

The hours worked can be reduced by things like holidays and sickness. The number can also increase if you work overtime. An employee may have to work extra hours when certain conditions arise in a contract, which may be mandatory overtime. There are also situations where reasonable overtime is optional and may even be rewarded.

What about zero-hours contracts?

'Zero Hour Contract' refers to an employment contract where the employer is not required to offer or compensate an employee for a minimum number of work hours.

A typical employment agreement is different because employees are only paid based on their work hours and are not required to accept any job offers.

These contacts are common in the hospitality and gigging industries, delivery driving, warehouses, and care industries, where service demands fluctuate. The zero-hour contract allows employers and employees to adjust staffing levels and income as needed.

How do holiday and sick pay affect things?

How do holiday and sick pay affect things?

A person's actual hours worked will vary depending on whether they are absent or if they receive additional work.

When an employee is absent due to sickness or annual leave, their actual hours worked will be reduced. However, they will increase their actual hours worked if they work overtime.

The most common organization counts annual leave as paid time off, so taking a day off will only affect how many hours the employee gets paid.

Some employers offer sick leave after completing a probationary period, for example, while others don't. As a result, employees should check their company's terms of employment to determine if they qualify for sick leave. In the case of sickness, employees will be compensated for the time they are away from work.

The government owes £96.35 per week for sick leave to employees who do not have sick pay at work. This is called Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). Employers may pay this amount for up to 28 weeks if certain criteria are met.

What happens when you work long hours?

A higher salary is paid to you. Despite that flippant answer, pay overtime is often an important part of an employee's salary. As long as your employer offers overtime regularly, your contracted hours will be the same. It is, by definition, voluntary to work overtime, and overtime hours are over and above what you agreed to work.

In some cases, businesses impose mandatory overtime on their employees. You may have to do extra work when a manager requests you to do so.

Nevertheless, the European Worktime Directive regulates working hours in the UK. There should be no obligation for an employee to work more than 48 hours per week. Unless an employee requests otherwise, they may opt out of the Directive.

What happens if an employer fails to meet an employee's minimum contracted working hours?

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Lay off vs short time working

Sometimes employers cannot offer employees the minimum scheduled hours because they do not have enough work to go around. In this case, the employer may ask the employee to take unpaid leave as a layoff or short time off.

Layoffs versus short-term jobs: What's the difference? Can people be forced to choose one over the other? Here's a closer look.

Lay off

In a layoff, employees remain at home because their employer cannot provide enough work. An average period lasts one or more working days but can extend over several weeks.

Employees are not required to be paid during layoffs if their contract of employment allows them. Layoffs, however, might be construed as a breach of contract if no mention of them is made in the employment contract. This leaves the company open to unpaid wage claims in an employement tribunal.

Short time working hours.

Short-time working is a temporary reduction in an employee's contracted work hours. The number of hours worked each day or how many days are worked per week may be reduced.

If the employee's contract permits short-term work, this may be unpaid. The employer would be in breach of contract if they reduced the number of contracted hours offered to employees if the contract does not mention short-term working.

Payment during layoff

When employees are laid off or on temporary leave, they are entitled to be paid for their contracted hours, even if they have yet to work them. This is if they're available. In this case, the employer may not pay the employee for layoffs, short-term work, or reduced hours if the employment contract stipulates that they won't.

It is potentially dangerous for employees who are not paid for their contracted hours to sue for unpaid overtime or layoffs without an unpaid layoff clause in their employment contracts.

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What is the maximum layoff period for an employee?

A layoff or temporary employment situation is usually a short-term situation caused by a struggling business. There may also be a need for more work for the business, which results in problems paying its employees.

It is only possible to lay off or put an employee on short-term leave within a certain period. In other words, it could range from a single workday to several months.

Employees may be able to claim redundancy if laid off without pay or placed on short-term work at less than half their contract salary. An employee must have been out of a job for four consecutive weeks or six consecutive weeks in 13 weeks to make a redundancy claim.

Useful Read: What is Statutory Redundancy Pay? A Guide for UK Employers

When can contracted hours be cut?

In many cases, people may be shocked and worried if their contracted hours are cut because they rely on those hours to support their families. Certain circumstances may, however, allow for a reduction in the number of own hours specified in an employment contract.

An employer may legally reduce the contracted hours without pay temporarily if the contract of employment contains a clause that permits layoffs or short-time working. As an alternative, an employee may agree to reduce their contracted hours. As a result, if an employee has not worked the contracted hours, an employer is not obligated to pay them.

Additionally, some businesses and trade unions may have agreements that allow the company not to pay staff during layoff periods. The employment contract must, however, explicitly mention this agreement for it to be legally enforceable.

In addition, an employer may lay off an employee without notice by altering the terms of their employment contract. If there are any reductions in working hours, a clause that the employee's contract states that they will be agreed upon could be added.

Can I reduce hours if the contract does not allow it?

In most cases, employers do not provide for an unpaid or reduced pay layoff or short-term employee arrangement in their employment contracts. Employees in this situation are entitled to pay for their contracted hours, regardless of whether they work them.

Employers have the right to ask employees to change their contracted hours. A proposal cannot be forced upon an employee, however. In a contract breach, employees are not paid for their contracted hours because they are unwilling to accept the change.

Employees must speak with their employer if they aren't paid for their contracted hours. You may need to contact your manager or the HR department. In most cases, the problem stems from a payroll error that can be corrected promptly.

However, the employee must use the grievance process if the company fails to pay. ACAS will initiate an immediate reconciliation process as a last resort if the situation deteriorates. The employee and employer can use this process to settle the dispute without going to court.

Must Read: What is a Workplace Grievance? A Guide for Managers

If this does not succeed, an employee may seek compensation from an employment tribunal. A breach of contract must always be brought to the tribunal's attention after the employee leaves the company. As a result, if the employee wants to file a claim, they must resign from their position.

Changing jobs during a short period of employment

Layoffs or short-term contracts can strain finances, so it's understandable if workers consider taking on other work during these periods.

Employees must review their employment contracts before working during layoffs or short-term assignments. Often, employees are allowed to handle other work outside the company using this document. If the contract does not mention taking on alternative work, it's best to speak to the employer to ensure they consent.

Carin Vreede

Written by:

Carin Vreede

With years of experience in the HR field, Carin has a lot of experience with HR processes. As a content marketer, she translates this knowledge into engaging and informative content that helps companies optimize their HR processes and motivate and develop their employees.


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