The Employment Relationship: Hours, Holidays & Sickness


Regulations set a maximum number of weekly working hours for employees (48 hours on average over a 17 week reference period). However, the maximum working week does not apply to all employees and employees may also opt out of the limit. Night workers have additional protection including more breaks and tighter limits on working hours.

Even if an employee opts out of the limit on maximum weekly working hours, employers should ensure that their employees take daily and weekly rest periods. The amount of designated rest time will depend on whether the employee is an “adult worker” or a “young worker”.


All workers have the statutory right to a minimum of 5.6 weeks’ paid annual leave (equivalent to 28 days for a full-time employee). This entitlement includes public and bank holidays (of which there are usually eight in the UK).

Both fixed-term and part-time workers are entitled to a pro-rated annual leave entitlement.

Employees are entitled to be paid at a rate of one week’s pay for each week of leave. The question of what constitutes a week’s pay is a complex area and has spawned a great deal of litigation, particularly in respect of whether overtime and commission payments should be accounted for in holiday pay calculations.  Specific advice should be sought on this subject.

Employers may not pay their employees in lieu of their statutory annual leave entitlement except on termination of employment when a payment must be made in lieu of any accrued but untaken leave.


If an employee is unwell and cannot attend work, they will be entitled to statutory sick pay (“SSP“) provided they meet the eligibility requirements.   Some employees will not qualify for SSP based on their earnings, but they may qualify for other state sickness benefits.

SSP is not payable for the first 3 days of a period of incapacity for work and is only payable for “qualifying days”, i.e. the days on which the employee would normally be required to work.

The employee must provide the employer with proof that they are too unwell to work.  Typically this will take the form of a “self-certification” for the first week and a “statement of fitness for work” from their doctor for absences of over 7 days.

The rate of SSP is reviewed by the Government each year and is currently (2018/2019) £92.05 a week; income tax and national insurance contributions should be deducted by the employer from SSP.  Employers used to be able to recover the cost of SSP from the government but can no longer do so.

Some employers choose to enhance SSP and set out in their employment contracts that employees will receive their usual pay for a specified number of days in a consecutive 12 month period.