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Working hours and breaks laws – There are several important reasons for taking rest breaks when working. It not only allows staff to recover from the stresses of work, but it also gives them time to recharge for the next part of their shift. But how employers administer rest breaks or whether an employee has an entitlement to them in the first place is a murky subject. And the work break laws in the UK can be difficult to fathom, at first glance.

That’s why we have created this comprehensive guide to rest breaks at work in the UK. In it, we will discuss what a rest break is as well as what the law says about them. Let’s begin.

What is a Work Rest Break?

A rest break at work is a period of time away from work duties. During this time, the employee can leave the office/work area and may look to eat/drink so they can recharge. Some employers may require employees to stay on-premises (or nearby). On top of this, the employer has no legal obligation to pay the employee whilst he/she is on break. The details of whether an employer will pay employees whilst on break should be set out in contracts of employment.

Do I Have a Right to Rest Breaks?

Having regular breaks during work is a legal right… for most workers. As a rule, your employment contract will determine the actual terms of rest breaks and if you will receive pay. There are, however, certain legislation that dictates how businesses administer rest breaks.

Most adult workers, over the age of 18 years old, have entitlement to three different types of work break:

Some of this resting time will take place at the workplace. Other periods, however, will be taken between working days, on both a daily and weekly basis.

Which Law Governs Rest Breaks at Work in the UK?

As with most rules at work, The Working Time Regulations (1998) sets out legislation around employees’ rights to adequate breaks.

What Are the Work Break Laws in the UK?

Workers who work over six hours a day have a legal right to one ‘uninterrupted’ twenty-minute rest break during their normal working day. This short resting period will allow workers to take a tea break or have their lunch.

Many employees get paid for this downtime at the workplace. But, payment is not guaranteed in law unless the employment contract states so.

What About Breaks Between Shifts?

UK employment legislation gives workers the right to eleven hours of rest between shifts. Employers normally give this as an overnight break between working days. This time allows for employees to rest between finishing one shift and starting the next one.

What About Weekly Rest Periods?

The law on rest breaks at work also dictates that employees have the right to one full day of rest per week. This doesn’t mean workers will get one day off guaranteed each week, as some shift patterns may prohibit this. The law states that the one day off is an average. This may mean that some employees have no days off in one week but have extra days off in subsequent ones.

The rules state that all workers have the right to either:

  • One uninterrupted period of 24 hours without work each week.
  • One uninterrupted period of 48 hours without work each fortnight.

As an Employer, Why Do I Have to Give These Breaks?

The government considers rest breaks a health and safety issue. Employers have a responsibility to provide their employees with breaks to ensure their health and safety is not at risk. This is most important where the type of work is ‘monotonous’ (e.g. working in a factory).

Do the Working Hours & Breaks Rules Apply to All Workers?

No, the rules do not apply to all workers. This is because some jobs have no real health and safety risk requiring rest time to occur. Or the needs of the job outweigh the right to a break. Typical examples include:

  • Domestic workers in a private house.
  • Au pairs.
  • Self-employed people.
  • Those in the armed forces, emergency services or police dealing with an exceptional catastrophe or disaster.
  • A role where the person freely chooses the hours they work (like a managing director).
  • A role where the work is not measured (i.e., has no set hours).
  • Those who work in sea transport.
  • Those who work in air or road transport (UK law considers these as ‘mobile’ workers).

Read on to get specific laws on working hours and breaks in UK.

working hours and breaks laws in UK

Can I do Whatever I Want in my Rest Break?

Not necessarily. Some employers are open to staff members leaving the premises on their break. Others may require them to stay on site. Either way, details are often set out in the employee’s contract of employment.

Can I Take my Rest Breaks Whenever I Want?

Again, not necessarily. It depends on what your contract of employment states. Some employers (like construction) are open to employees taking breaks when they feel they need to. Others (like offices and shops) may dictate when breaks are taken to ensure sufficient staff cover.

If an employer dictates when an employee takes a break, then they must:

  • Allow workers to spend it away from their normal workstation or desk.
  • Ensure that the employee takes the break as a single period of respite around the middle of the working day.

Will I Be Paid for my Rest Breaks?

That depends on what your contract of employment says. There is no legal requirement for your employer to pay you for your rest breaks and many don’t.

What if I Don’t Want to Take a Break? Can My Employer Force Me?

Yes, they can. Rest breaks are a health and safety issue in law and as such, staff are required legally to take them. This can lead to employers forcing staff to take breaks if necessary.

Can I Take Smoking Breaks?

Again, not unless your contract specifies that you can. There is no legal right to smoking breaks in the UK.

What If I Am Under 18 Years Old?

The rules for under 18s are slightly different. Young workers have entitlement to:

  • A rest break of thirty minutes if their employer expects them to work longer than 4.5 hours.
  • A daily rest break of at least twelve 12 hours (compared to the 11 hours for adults).
  • A weekly rest break of at least 48 hours (compared to the 24 hours for adults).

In Conclusion

We hope you have found our guide to work breaks in the UK useful. For more helpful workplace guides, take a look around our site.

If you’d like to stay legally compliant, Papershift’s shift planning software can help you stay on top if. Signup for a free demo.

Illustration by Svetlana Tulenina from Ouch!