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'My employer says that because my contract of employment does not specify fixed hours and, in theory, I can determine my own working hours, the legislation covering working hours does not apply to me. Is my employer correct?'
A spokesperson for the University and College Union says: "The Working Time Regulations 1998 limit the maximum time a worker can be required to work in a seven-day period to 48 hours, and specify minimum annual leave requirements.
"Although the UCU had always argued that the regulations did apply to academic and related staff, some institutions took the view that the exclusion applying to those whose working hours were not strictly measurable took academic and related staff with no specified contractual hours outside the scope of the regulations.
"However, the exemption for unmeasured time was revoked in April 2006 and therefore cannot be relied on, so you can be assured that the legislation does apply to you.
"This does not, of course, mean that the UCU accepts a working time of up to 48 hours.
"Academic staff in the post-92 sector have their teaching hours limited and their annual leave specified under the national contract, and working hours for all staff should be at a level at which a work-life balance can be maintained.
"You should also not be required to work for longer hours than colleagues who are on the same grade as you - significant variances in the working week undermine the principles of equal pay.
"If you are concerned about your hours of work or the pressures of your workload you should talk to your trade union."
Gill Evans, project leader of the Higher Education Funding Council for England-funded Dispute Resolution Project ( www.staffs.ac.uk ), says: "The answer is 'no'.
"The overall length of the working week that any employee can be required to work cannot exceed the Europe-approved total. The question of 'real' working weeks in universities is complex. Administrators and academics often work far longer than the hours allowed. But that does not mean they can be required to do so."
n A spokesperson for the Universities and Colleges Employers Association says: "Regulations relating to the 48-hour working week, night working, health assessments for night workers and weekly and daily rest periods do not usually apply in relation to a worker where, on account of the specific characteristics of the activity in which he/she is engaged, the duration of his/her working time is not measured or predetermined or can be determined by the worker. This is particularly relevant in the case of managing executives or other persons with autonomous decision-taking powers.
"All academic and academic-related staff who do not have hours of work defined in their contracts of employment will qualify for inclusion in this definition of workers who manage their own work time. If, for any reason (such as stated part-time hours), the contract of employment issued to an academic or academic-related member of staff does stipulate specific hours of work, that individual will become subject to the maximum 48-hour working week.
"Where part of an employee's working time is pre-determined and part can be determined by the worker him or herself and is not measured (for example, voluntary unpaid overtime), the hours which are not pre-determined do not count against the 48-hour limit. However, as pointed out in the Preventing and Tackling Stress at Work booklet , employers and employees always carry a responsibility to ensure a healthy work/life balance."
This advice panel includes the University and College Union, the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, the Equality Challenge Unit and the Higher Education Funding Council for England-funded Dispute Resolution Project. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org