Dear Contractor Doctor,
I’m new to contracting and have just started work on my first IT contract with a financial services client. Within days of starting work on the project, I’ve been working longer hours than those specified in my contract.
For example, my client has asked me to work through lunch – should I charge?
Contractor Doctor says:
Contractors’ working hours and pay depend entirely on what has been negotiated and agreed in their contract. And contractors should only be paid for the time that they actually work, otherwise, if they’re limited company contractors, they might appear to have employee-like characteristics and their IR35 status could be in jeopardy.
The basis on which a contractor is paid can make a huge difference. Whereas a contractor being paid hourly would be able to add lunch hours worked to their timesheet, a contractor on a day rate might not receive additional remuneration for working their lunch hour.
Contractors asked to work long hours without breaks should also be aware of the Working Time Regulations, which apply to all workers, including contractors, and not just employees.
What’s in the contract?
Contractors paid on an hourly basis would normally have the number of hours to be worked in a week specified in their contract, plus the core hours when they are expected to be working on a client’s site. Lunch hours, if not worked, are unpaid; but if an hourly paid contractor works an extra hour over lunch, they can adjust their hours that day, or timesheet, accordingly.
Day-rate contractors are typically contracted to work an eight-hour day excluding lunch, although the exact hours will depend on what’s in the contract. If a day-rate contractor works the occasional lunch, convention is that this is an occupational hazard and there’s no extra money in it.
Flexibility outside the scope of the contract
But if working lunchtimes and hours significantly longer than those specified in the contract, a contractor would be perfectly entitled to refuse to work these extra hours, or to negotiate a higher rate that more accurately reflects the time spent by the contractor.
However, making an issue over hours and refusing to work or asking for more money depends on the specific circumstances, and is a judgement call for the contractor to make on a contract by contract basis.
If one week has been particularly demanding because of project deadlines, quite often a client project manager might suggest contractors take a couple of long lunches and early finishes the following week by way of compensation.
If working long hours, beware of the Working Time Regulations
The Working Time Regulations apply to all workers, not just employees. So contractors are covered by the legislation, unless they choose to exempt themselves. In theory, contractors are entitled to the same rest breaks and working-hour time limits as employees.
Under the regulations, a contractor is entitled to a 20 minute break if expected to work more than six hours consecutively. They should also have an 11-hour break between working days and should have weekly rest – a ‘weekend’ – of 24 hours away from work once a week and 48 hours without work each fortnight.
Contractors' working hours and pay depend entirely on what has been negotiated and agreed in their contract
So technically a contractor asked to work their whole day without a lunch break is in breach of the Working Time Regulations. In practice, however, the worker is responsible for making a tribunal claim, or claiming via the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
Contractors who are directors of their own contractor limited company can exempt themselves from the requirements of the regulations on the basis that, as a ‘managing executive’, they choose freely how long they work. Umbrella company contractors are within the scope of the regulations.
Good luck with your contracting!