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Could Brexit impact the working time regulations for GP Practices?

In 1998, the European Union introduced the Working Time Directive. This was then brought into British Law under the Working Time Regulations 1998 (WTR). WTR introduced a number of protections for employees that almost all businesses must adhere to, if they don’t, the business could face a tribunal with an unlimited fine.

It has been well reported that following Brexit, Working Time Regulations are expected, down the line, to be changed.

 

What Could Change?

  • Annual Leave Entitlements

The EU Working Time Directive states that employees are entitled to a minimum of 4 weeks annual leave, but in the Working Time Regulations, the British Government increased this to 5.6 weeks annual leave. This means that all employers must ensure that their employees get a minimum of 5.6 weeks’ holiday, including a pro rata apportion for those that work part time.

  • Break Entitlement

The Working Time Regulations state that employers need to provide employees with a 20 minute break when they work over 6 hours. The break must be able to be taken away from the workspace and be uninterrupted. It is at the discretion of the employer whether the break is paid or unpaid, but both the RCN and BMA suggest that breaks should be paid.

  • Daily Rest

The WTR state that employees should have at least 11 hours between shifts. An example would be that an employee finishing work at 11pm and then not being able to start until 10am the following day.

  • Weekly Rest

Employees are entitled to one weekly rest day of 24 hours (one day off per week). This can be done as two days in a 14 day period.

  • Maximum Weekly Working Hours

Employees cannot work more than 48 hours in a week, averaged over 17 weeks. This means that there might be one week where an employee works over their usual working hours, but this could be balanced out in future weeks by ensuring the employee works less, or that they will still be under that 48 hour cut off.

Employees who are under 18 cannot work more than 40 hours a week.

It is possible to “Opt out” of the 48 hour working week, which means that an employee on average will be able to work any hours per week. This must be done in writing, but cannot be forced by the employer, it must be the decision of the employee. There are several instances where the 48 hour rule does not apply, in industries that require 24 hour staffing, for example and some roles, such as HGV drivers, cannot choose to “Opt out”.

  • Night Workers

If an employee works more than three hours during the night, they are considered a “Night Worker”. There are certain restrictions that must be adhered to for night workers. These include:

  • Maximum shift length of 8 hours (over a 52 week period).
  • Workers cannot “opt out” of the limits
  • Staff under 18 cannot work between 12am-4am
  • Employers must offer a free health assessment to employees before they start working nights

(More detailed information may be found on the gov.uk website here.

Enforcement

Employees have a duty with regards to employee’s health and safety, as well as complying with the law. The Health and Safety Executive are responsible for enforcing the maximum weekly working limit, Night Worker assessments and Night Work limits. They do not enforce annual leave entitlements, rest breaks and time off. Any employee concerned that any part of the Working Time Regulations are not being adhered to by their employer should contact ACAS.

Brexit

It is likely that it will be some time before the government make any changes to the Working Time Regulations, partly because the current pandemic is of course taking much of the government’s time and effort but also because it will be fairly low on the list of priorities. However, should they make the rumoured changes, this will have a big and lasting impact on employing people in the UK and managers therefore need to ensure that they keep themselves up to date.

What does this mean for Practice Staff?

It is well known that Practice employees work long hours, many of which may exceed 48 hours per week. The Working Time Regulations do apply to salaried GPs and Locums as well as Practice Managers and all other practice staff.

As a GP Partner is not an “employee”, however, the regulations do not apply to them. With current whispers of GPs moving to provide a seven-day service, it will be paramount for Practice Managers to ensure that they are not working any more than 6 days per week, even if they have opted out of the 48 hour limit. They must get 24 hours continuous rest in 7 days (or 48 hrs. in 14 days): for instance, if they do extra work at weekends.

Practice Managers must also ensure that any employed GPs that work an evening session, for example, are getting their 11 hours of rest per day.

If you need any help with any employment issues regarding breaks, annual leave, or weekly hours, FPM subscribers can contact our free HR Helpline on hrhelp@firstpracticemanagement.co.uk

 


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