Plan employee rota scheduling during a mandatory downtime like a boss!

Mandatory downtime periods include breaks during the working day, breaks between working days, and weekly rest periods. Plan rota on the right side of law.
  • Author: Siva
  • Last updated: December 8, 2022
  • 8 Minutes
employee rota scheduling planning during a mandatory downtime in small businesses in UK explained by Papershift

© / Adobe Stock

As a small or medium-sized business owner, you’ve got better things to do with your time than dig into the intricacies of staff scheduling. Unfortunately, however, if you have employees there’s no avoiding it.

Sure, it’s easy enough to plan a rota when work is constant, and employees work the same shift patterns, but you’ll still have to provision for sickness, leave requests, holiday management and (more importantly for this article) mandatory downtimes.

But what is mandatory downtime and how do businesses go about scheduling it so they keep employees fresh as well as the right side of the law?

In this guide we will look at:

  • What an employee schedule is.
  • What the law says about mandatory downtime for employees. 
  • How businesses can use mandatory downtime to keep staff happy and fresh.

Let’s begin.

What is employee scheduling?

Employee scheduling is a regular business practice that stands for recording time-related workloads and assignments to let workers and their managers know when they are working and when they are not. 

Employee scheduling methods are often dictated by the workstyle employed by each specific business and tools that they use to carry it out. 

Employee scheduling is often predefined by the needs of the organizations management. For example, in some organizations, schedules are strictly delegated by upper management so that employees are available when the business needs them. Other businesses may have a more flexible workflow allowing employees to schedule themselves. 

In every case, it’s important for companies to be aware of the laws and official regulations that set out the scheduling requirements within their work sector. 

What is mandatory downtime?

A mandatory downtime (or rest break as it is more commonly referred to) is an uninterrupted period of rest for an employee during which work should not be undertaken. Mandatory downtime should allow an employee to be away from their workstation and the break should be continuous. 

Check our featured guide for small & medium businesses on the ‘Working hours & break laws‘ everyone should be aware of!!

Some workers, for example, workers who have to deal with an emergency incident, often have to miss their break. When this happens, they must be allowed “compensatory rest” for the same amount of time as the missed break. They should be allowed to take this break as soon as possible.   Any compensatory rest must be a genuine break from work and must, as far as possible, be free from any work.  

If the nature of the employee’s work prevents an uninterrupted break, it can be made up of several shorter chunks of time which, when added together, amount to the legal minimum (for more on this see later in the article), as long as the rest provides the same benefit in terms of wellbeing. 

A period of downtime where an employee is allowed to stop working but must stay in contact with their employer is not a rest break, even if it turns out at the end of the break that it was uninterrupted. 

Mandatory downtime periods include breaks during the working day, breaks between working days, and weekly rest periods. 

In addition to the specific requirement to provide rest breaks, employers are required by law (Working Time Regulations) to provide adequate rest breaks where the work pattern puts workers’ health and safety at risk, in particular because work is monotonous, or the work rate is predetermined.

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Are workers legally entitled to rest breaks?

Yes, they are. The Working Time Regulations 1998 state that employees and workers are legally entitled to:

  1. At least a 20-minute break if they work for longer than six hours (many organisations, however, allow longer or more frequent rest periods).
  2. Work no more than 48 hours per week (although individuals may choose to opt out of this and choose to work longer).
  3. 11 consecutive hours of rest within any 24-hour period.
  4. A minimum of one day off every week or two consecutive days off in a fortnight.
  5. No more than an average 8-hours work within any 24-hour period if their shift is considered a night shift.

Overall, most employees are entitled to rest breaks during their work shifts, along with off days on a daily and weekly basis.

What are compensatory rest breaks?

A compensatory rest break is where an employee can’t take their break at the time it is scheduled and instead take a compensatory rest period at a later time. In general, this type of breaks is taken within a reasonable time from when an individual missed the break.

Additionally, a compensatory rest break must last as long as a normal rest break (a minimum of 20 minutes as set out in law). 

As an employee, you might be entitled to compensatory rest breaks, if:

  1. You are working in shifts.
  2. You work a job that requires you to cover at all times, like in a hospital or as a fireman.
  3. You work as a security guard who has to be available to deal with issues at the drop of a hat.

Does the age of the employee change what mandatory downtime they are entitled to?

Yes, it does. As mentioned previously, if you are aged 18 or above and work for 6 hours or more in a day, you are entitled to:

  1. At least 20 minutes of uninterrupted rest break during the day (not at the beginning or end of work hours).
  2. 11 hours of continuous rest between each working day.
  3. A rest day every working week or 2 days off within a fortnight

If you are over school leaving age but under 18, you cannot usually work in excess of 8 hours per day or 40 hours in total over a week. Additionally, you are entitled to:

  1. A 30-minute rest break if your working day exceeds the duration of 4 hours and 30 minutes.
  2. 12 hours rest break between each working day.
  3. 2 off days per week.

Furthermore, you cannot usually work between:

  1. 10 pm and 6 am (even if your contract requires you to work after 10 pm, you must finish by 11 pm and not start the next working day before 7am).
  2. Midnight to 4 am.

There are some exceptions to these rules, for example, if an employee works in a hospital, retail environment, agriculture, catering, or hotels there may not be a cap on the type of work hours.

What happens if an employer doesn’t allow mandatory downtime?

According to employment law in the UK, employers are legally bound to allow their employees to have rest breaks. If an employee is not allowed to take rest breaks, they may make an employment tribunal claim against their boss. 

What are the benefits to letting employees have sufficient work breaks?

There are many benefits to giving employees sufficient rest periods whilst they are at work, including:

  1. Increased productivity. While taking breaks might sound counterintuitive when it comes to boosting productivity, it’s one of the best ways to do so. Employees often gain focus and energy after stepping away from their desks and refuelling. 
  2. Improved mental well-being. Employees need time to recharge. Stress is incredibly common in the workplace, and it has a detrimental effect on employees. Taking some time away from the desk to go for a quick walk or enjoy a healthy lunch helps release some of this stress and improves mental well-being.
  3. Creativity boost. Taking a break can give employees a fresh perspective on challenging projects. It’s hard for employees to develop new ideas or solutions when they’ve been looking at the same thing all day. A rest period will most certainly help get those creative juices flowing.

Scheduling mandatory downtime best practices

Featured Guide

Here are a few best practices for scheduling employee breaks:

Schedule in advance

Like most things, scheduling breaks in advance will save time when managing people. It also allows employees to schedule and prepare for their break, meaning that they enjoy the time away from their workload more.

Address the needs of employees

It’s important for employers to ensure they accommodate the special needs of their employees. Just like how no business or product is the same, no two staff members are alike either. Businesses need to look at the needs of each employee and team member and give breaks accordingly based on their needs and the work they are carrying out. 

Ask staff about their current break schedule

If you’re looking to create an atmosphere of trust and collaboration among employees, ask staff about their breaks. This will allow you to gain a better understanding of the needs of employees and how you can get the best work out of them.

Use employee breaks to support productivity

It’s important for any business when scheduling their employees breaks, that they analyse the “peak productivity” timeframes and plan breaks immediately after them.  This will keep staff free to deal with any increased workloads whilst allowing them to unwind afterwards. 

In conclusion

When working with any type of scheduling task in the workplace, it’s important to make sure you have a solution in place that works for everyone. The easier it is for your team members to unwind, the more likely they are to work harder and improve productivity and overall efficiency. 

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Written by Siva

I write & describe the value & benefits delivered by Paperhift's rota planning, staff time tracking, and employee payroll management software. Especially useful for Shift Planners, Rota Managers, Team Admins, and HR Teams :-)