Clock on desk

Are you being overworked? Know your rights

Has the 9-to-5 become a thing of the past? For some grads, unfortunately, this is looking more and more likely. Lockdown has blurred the lines of a normal workday and even before this anomaly some employers have been all too eager to ask, or tactfully demand, their employees to extend their working hours.

With horror stories emerging from the corporate world (G-man Sachs we're looking at you), it's highlighted the need to enforce a proper work/life balance and raised the question of 'Is this even legal?' when it comes to working overtime.

We're here to answer that for you.


Working time regulations

The working time regulations exist to protect employees from working more than a 48-hour week. It also protects employees when it comes to rest breaks and holiday rights. However, an employer can get out of following these regs by simply adapting the wording in employment contracts or issuing a separate letter which constitutes an “opt-out” - i.e the employee can work, lawfully, more than 48 hours a week.

Woman looking disarmed saying 'that's not fair'


How can you return to an 8-hour workday?

If you've signed an opt-out letter, you can give (usually) 3 months’ notice to end this arrangement. However, if it's written in your contract I'm afraid it may not be so simple. Your best bet is to start on the job hunt to find a company that can better accommodate your work needs.

And what if it doesn't say anywhere that you've agreed to work longer hours? It's now time to have a sit-down with your line manager. This may feel a little bit uncomfortable but a conversation about feeling overworked should help resolve matters. If you're not up for a face-to-face conversation just yet, try this email template as a first step:

Hi (manager),

I hope you're well.

I would like to discuss my working hours and workload with you as I'm feeling quite overstretched at the moment.

I want to work to the best of my ability and I do focus on time management and prioritisation, however, I feel that the current situation may affect my performance if it continues.

Can we chat about how we can best approach this moving forward?

All the best,


man at desk stressed and relieved after sending an email


Will you get in trouble for bringing up your working hours?

If you feel that your manager may be less than welcoming to this conversation, it's good to know how to cover yourself beforehand.

If you get penalised in any way for addressing your working hours, that would be evidence of a detriment or unfair treatment! On top of that, if the treatment has forced you out of the job, you could potentially have a claim for constructive unfair dismissal (depending on the facts) as well as any detriment claim above. With this in mind, make sure to document everything in case it gets to this point (we hope not!).

So, I know it's scary but addressing issues in your work-life will be worth it in the long run - for your health and your career.


Watch yo' back cowboy companies.

three men in an office pretending to be in a stand-off


If you're still not sure about your contract, it's always best to seek further advice. Jane Johnson, who helped inform this blog, is a director of JLJ Legal - you can reach her on for queries on your employment contract or anything employment law related.

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