The European Working Time Directive And How To Follow It

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This guide looks at the European Working Time Directive, covering all the key details your fleet business needs to know about it and explaining its relationship to the Drivers’ Hours Rules.

Should I follow the Working Time Directive or Drivers’ Hours Rules?

The European Working Time Directive (EWTD) is EU health and safety legislation that guarantees EU workers receive basic rights for the hours they work and holidays they’re entitled to. 

If you employ full time drivers, or workers who spend part of their working day driving and other parts of the day doing a different type of work, you will need to follow a second set of regulations as well. These are called the Drivers’ Hours Rules. 

Both sets of rules were created by the European Union. Following Brexit, the UK Government has no intention in the foreseeable future to change these rules. Companies are expected to continue following all these regulations, which are part of UK law. 

It can be confusing to follow two separate sets of working time rules. Both sets are necessary, however, to cover all types of jobs where driving may be a part, but not all, of how someone spends their working hours. 

This guide explains both sets of rules. It also refers to telematics and tachograph technology, which can make it easier to track if you are following the rules correctly and also logs all-important evidence that you have done so.

What is the working time directive?

There are five key minimum requirements every employee gets as part of the EWTD:

  • Four weeks paid holiday per year  
  • Rest period for every six hours worked 
  • 11 hour rest period every 24 hours 
  • 24 hour rest period for every week worked
  • Protections to ensure night workers aren’t put at risk

The promotion of healthy working conditions is a vital part of the European Pillar of Social Rights, 20 principles and rights (from lifelong learning to fair wages) that the EU is committed to providing citizens within the union.

What does the working time directive mean?

The UK government’s overview of the working time directive explains that it means “you can’t work more than 48 hours a week on average, normally averaged over 17 weeks” — if you are aged 18 or over. 

Workers under 18 can’t work more than 40 hours a week or 8 hours a day. 

One of the important things to note about the working time directive is that workers can opt out of it. This means you can choose to work more than 48 hours a week. 

Employers can also ask you to opt out of it. However, you have the legal right to refuse this request and your employer can’t treat you unfairly or sack you if you decide not to opt out.

What are the EWTD rules?

The EWTD rules promote the health and safety of EU workers. 

They outline legal minimum standards that every EU business must provide to its employees, covering holidays, rest periods and safety practices for night workers. 

EWT rules on holidays 

  • You get a minimum of four weeks paid leave every year 

EWT rules on rest periods 

  • You’re entitled to a rest for every six hours you work
  • You’re entitled to 11 hours of rest during every day you work  
  • You’re entitled to 24 hours of rest for every week you work 

EWT rules on night worker safety 

  • Your average working hours can’t be more than eight hours for every 24-hour period
  • You can’t do dangerous or heavy work for more than eight hours per 24-hour period
  • You have the right to get free health assessments 
  • You have the right (in some specific circumstances) to switch to day work 

These rules have been legal requirements for all businesses in the UK during the period of the nation’s EU membership since their introduction in 2003.

What are the drivers’ hours rules?

The drivers’ hours rules (Regulation (EC)561/2006) is EU legislation that applies to lorry drivers in tandem with the EWTD.

These rules apply specifically to how long drivers can work for, the breaks they must legally take and the rest periods they must have between their shifts.  

There are three key components to the rules — driving, break and rest. 

Each of these three elements has regulations on the hours drivers must abide by. These are the rules they must follow. 


  • Limit of 9 hours driving per day (this can be raised to 10 hours twice a week)
  • Limit of 56 hours driving per week 
  • Limit of 90 hours driving per fortnight 


  • 45 minute rest period after 4.5 hours of driving
  • The break can be split in two — first being a minimum of 15 minutes, second a minimum of 30 minutes


  • 11 hour rest between shifts (this can be dropped to 9 hours but no more than three times per week)
  • 45 hours of rest per week (this can be dropped to 24 hours, so long as there is at least one full rest period taken every fortnight. There must not be more than six consecutive 24-hour periods between the weekly rests) 

It’s essential your business and your drivers follow both the EWTD regulations and drivers’ rules.

Are there any exemptions to the EWTD regulations?

There are some circumstances where there can be exemptions to elements of the European Working Time Directive. 

These exemptions cover the following aspects of the EWTD:

  • Maximum working time per week 
  • Minimum daily rest periods 
  • Minimum weekly rest periods 
  • Break periods 
  • Maximum amount of time night staff can work 

The UK Government adds further detail to this by outlining the following job exceptions that mean you may need to work over 48 hours per week on average: 

  • If there’s a requirement for 24-hour staffing
  • Roles in the police, armed forces, or emergency services 
  • Security and surveillance occupations 
  • Domestic servants in private households
  • Sea-fisherpersons, seafarers, or people who work on inland waterway vessels 
  • If you’re the person in charge of your working hours, such as a managing director

You can also personally choose exemption to the EWTD, if you decide to opt out of it. This must be your choice and your employee cannot put you under duress to exempt yourself from the EWTD.

How fleets can monitor the hours their employees are working

It’s the legal responsibility of business owners to ensure their employees don’t work over 48 hours a week on average — unless the employee specifically chooses to opt out of this. 

If your company employees drivers then you can use telematics to help you monitor the number of hours your workers are using their vehicles.

This is because telematics devices track vehicle drive time. This gives you an electronic record of how many hours your employees have been driving for during work hours each week.

If you want to use these devices to help ensure your company meets its legal requirement of guaranteeing your drivers don’t work more than 48 hours a week, check out iCompario’s telematics systems.

You can enter your business needs to make sure you get the right device for your company. You are likely to need a tachograph if your fleet contains HGVs, haulage vehicles and your drivers tend to transport goods for large parts of the day. For some companies it may be adequate to use a different type of telematics which gives you the data you need to keep a record of the driving hours and break times of your employees and combine that with their other working hours. 

Once you’ve done this you’ll have a telematics system that not only records the time your drivers spend working but also their driving behaviour. 

This will ensure your drivers work no more than their legal hours and give you the data your business needs to keep your vehicles on the road for longer — you can catch any behaviours that lead to wear and tear before they cause significant damage to your vehicles. 

So, invest in a telematics device and you’ll be able to keep to the European Working Time Directive and keep your vehicles on the road for longer.