European Working Time Directive (EWTD)

This page is designed to help you (the GP Trainer, GP Trainee and any other supervisor or educator) understand the European Working Time Directive. It’s something that keeps popping up and we hope this page will simply, demystify and summarise things for you.

WHAT IS THE EWTD?

The European Working Time Directive (EWTD) was enacted into UK law on 1 October 1998 as the Working Time Regulations. It is legislation that is intended to support the health and safety of workers by setting minimum requirements for working hours, rest periods and annual leave. In other words, it is there to protect employed doctors by making sure they get enough rest so that they’re in good form for when they are working.

WHAT ARE ITS MAIN FEATURES?

  • That the employed doctor (GP trainee, salaried doc etc.) works no more than an average of 48 hours each week (excluding lunch hour and time taken to travel to and from work). The average is worked out over a period of 6 months (26 weeks): i.e. divide the number of hours worked over 6 months, by 26 weeks.
  • They must get 11 hours continuous rest in a 24 hour period: for instance, if they do an evening shift on top of their day time work.
  • 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.
  • They must get a 20 minute break in work periods of over 6 hours.

This a legal requirement and cannot be foregone even if the employee wishes to. As employers we are bound to stick to these requirements. Practices may wish to note that these rules apply to employees – including salaried doctors and GP trainees – but not GP partners who are self-employed.

Coming back to this average of 48h each week, according to my calculations

  • working 8.30am until 6.30pm daily (minus 1h for lunch) plus ONE 6h OOH session per week = 46.5 hours
  • working 8.30am until 6.30pm daily  (minus 1h for lunch) plus TWO 6h OOH session per week (if they’re desperate for OOH sessions) = 48 hours
  • But in both cases, if the OOH session finishes at 1am, then the trainee cannot work the next day until the 11 hour rest period is over – which means about 12 midday.

WHAT’S THAT ABOUT A REFERENCE PERIOD?

The working hours of doctors in trainings are averaged over 6 months; so the 48-hour limit applies to an average of the hours over that period. This means that in some weeks a trainee may work more than 48 hours and in other weeks less. However, rest requirements must still be met: 11 hours rest in every 24 hours.

To calculate the average weekly working time, add up the number of hours worked in the reference period and divide that figure by the number of weeks in the reference period.

WHAT HAPPENS IF MY TRAINEE’S WORK IS IN BREACH OF THE EWTD?

The penalties for non-compliance include:

  1. Employment Tribunal proceedings
  2. Fines
  3. Employer imprisonment.

This is serious stuff! The next time you come up for re-approval as a trainer, you will be required to provide evidence that your practice complies with the WTR. This could be in the form of a practice policy (you could base it on this document) and an explanation as to how you monitor it.

WHAT ABOUT IN AN EMERGENCY? (click to open me)

The Working Time Regulations (WTR) should not prevent employees meeting their professional responsibilities when they work the hours they need to during an emergency or pandemic. The regulations include the flexibility to cope with an emergency:

  • The 48-hour week is averaged over a six-month period, so doctors can reduce hours at a later date;
  • You must, however, still ensure that WTR rest breaks are adhered to (or that compensatory rest is offered in lieu).

WHO NEEDS TO MONITOR ALL OF THIS?

Employers have a legal requirement to monitor the hours their doctors in training are working. For most GP trainees, of course, this means the practice/partnership.   Get your Practice Manager involved and make sure he or she understands the consequences of not adhering to this.

MY PRACTICE MANAGER DEALS WITH ALL OF THAT

Then your Practice Manager (PM) needs to be aware that the WTR applies to any doctor that is employed by the practice – whether as a salaried, trainee or other.  This a legal requirement with serious (financial & other) penalties if not adhered to.   The PM should

  • Check with the GP trainee/Salaried Doc whether they’re working additional hours (e.g. locum) for another employer.  If they are, then they need to figure out the hours and whether there is a breach in the EWTD.  In other words
    • making sure they get 11 hours continuous rest before they turn up for their normal work the next day or
    • if they work at weekends – making sure they get 24 hours continuous rest in 7 days (or 48 hrs in 14 days)
  • Monitor the average hours per week the doctor (salaried GP/GP trainee) works and make sure it does not exceed 48 hours.  Average it out over a period of 6 weeks.  And don’t just do it the once and forget about it.  Monitor it again periodically, perhaps even using 3 weeks as the period to average it out over.
  • Making sure the doctor gets a 20 minute break in work periods of over 6 hours.  Usually, this is not a problem in the normal working day because the lunch hour provides the break.
  • Develop a practice policy – this webpage can help you formulate the basis of the policy.   Don’t forget to provide an explanation as to how you monitor it.

MY TRAINEE SIMPLY DOES THE SAME HOURS THAT I DO. ISN'T THAT OKAY?

The EWTD only applied to employed doctors.   The EWTD does not apply to self-employed doctors like GP partners.   So, if you’re a GP trainer but also a GP partner (and therefore classed as self-employed), the EWTD does not apply to you.  That means that you CANNOT simply resort to the position that whatever is okay for you is okay for the GP trainee.  While long hours may be fine for us, if it means that our trainees’ hours don’t comply with the regulations then their hours are illegal. And you can be heavily fined!

CAN TRAINEES OPT OUT?

Individuals can opt out of WTR requirement. However,

  • They must not be coerced into opting out;
  • It must be agreed in writing;
  • They cannot opt out of WTR rest break or leave requirements;
  • Even if they do opt out, overall hours must not exceed 56 hours in a week across all their employments and any locum work that they do.

HOW DOES EWTD FIT IN WITH OUT OF HOURS THEN?

  • If your trainee does an evening shift on a weekday, check that they aren’t at risk of breaching the 11 hours continuous rest in 24 hours bit of the Regulations. They may need to have time off the morning before or after.
  • So, after a weekday OOH shift that finishes at say 0100, they need 11 hours rest so should not start work in practice until 12 midday the following day.
  • In that case, they would need to make up the missed (morning) surgery hours at another time. For instance, they could do “extended hours” surgeries on other days (evenings, Saturday mornings), or forego their ‘half-day off’ – as long as the trainee agrees or has it agreed in the employment contract they have signed.
  • If they do an extra shift on a weekend, they must get a period of 24 hours continuous rest in 7 days (or 48 hrs in 14 days).

WHAT IF THE TRAINEE DOES ADDITIONAL WORK AS A LOCUM? (OR MOONLIGHTING)

  • As an employer, you are still required to take all reasonable steps to ensure that EWTD is complied with (subject to any opt-out). This includes making reasonable enquiries of your trainees to find out whether they have other jobs:
  • If your trainee works a combined total exceeding regulations, then you need to ask your trainee either to sign an opt-out or to reduce the hours that they work. This means that MOONLIGHTING may breach the WTR!!!.
  • If the relevant limit has been exceeded in a particular week, but the average working week does not exceed this limit over the 26-week period, there is no breach of the Working Time Regulations

DOES THE TRAINEE HAVE ANY RESPONSIBILITY IN ALL OF THIS?

If the trainee is moonlighting, they MUST disclose this to both employers that they are working for another employer. If they don’t, then they risk being in breach of their contractual duty, as a result of working for two trusts.   If they work excessive hours, have not disclosed this to either employer and have not signed an EWTD opt-out form, this could end up as a disciplinary matter.

In General Practice, they should inform the GP Trainer and Practice Manager.  In hospital rotations,  they should inform their Clinical Supervisor and Human Resources.   In addition, their Training Programme Director advisor AND their Educational Supervisor should be notified.

Adapted from advice sheets written by

  • Michael Harris (Associate Postgraduate Dean, Severn School of Primary Care, Severn Deanery), 14th January 2010
  • Gordon McLeay (Assistant Director Postgraduate GP Education, East of Scotland Deanery),20th January 2010
  • Leeds GP Training Scheme website (accessed 27.06.2012 http://www.leedsgpst.org.uk/leeds-gpst-ooh.asp?OohID=17)