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UK Law on Rest Breaks at Work

There are several important reasons for taking rest breaks from work. Check the rights of workers to take a break period, how long you should take, and some exceptions to the rules.

REST BREAKS WHILE WORKING: Taking regular breaks during work is a legal right – for most workers.

As a rule, your employment contract would determine the actual terms of rest breaks and pay.

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

Some resting periods or downtime takes place at the workplace. Whereas, other respite gets taken between working days, on both a daily and weekly basis.

Law on Rest Breaks from Work

Workers who work more than six (6) hours a day have the right to one ‘uninterrupted’ twenty (20) minute rest break during their normal working day. As a rule, the short resting period allows workers to take a tea break or have their lunch break.

Many employees get paid for this particular downtime at the workplace. But, payment is not a legal requirement unless the employment contract states so.

Law on Daily Rest Time

UK employment legislation affords workers the right to eleven (11) hours of rest between their days of work. In fact, most workers will take it as an overnight break between their working week days. It allows for a rest period between finishing one day of work and starting the next one.

Law on Weekly Rest Period

The law on rest breaks at work also provides at least one full day of rest per week (as an average). Even though most workers will not go to work at the weekend, the rules state that they have the right to either:

  • One (1) uninterrupted period of 24 hours without work each week.
  • One (1) uninterrupted period of 48 hours without work each fortnight.

Note: In some cases, your employment contract may state some differences to the standard workers’ rights to rest breaks from work.

Rest Breaks Health and Safety Risks

Employers have a responsibility to provide their employees with sufficient breaks to ensure their health and safety is not at risk. It would apply most to the type of work that is ‘monotonous’ (e.g. working on a production line).

Note: The rules on work that puts health and safety at risk do not apply to all workers. Typical examples include domestic workers in a private house. Thus, a cleaner or an au pair would not have automatic entitlement to the same rest breaks.

Taking Rest Breaks at Work

The Law on Rest Breaks at Work in the United KingdomAll workers should take a ‘time out’ to help protect health and safety in the workplace. In fact, your employer can force you to pause work if your contract allows them to. Employers can also dictate when their employees take rest breaks in work time, providing:

  • The workers can spend it away from their normal workstation or their desk.
  • It gets taken as a single respite around the middle of the working day (not taken at the beginning or the end of the shift).

It is not uncommon for an employer to ask an employee to return to work before finishing their time off. In this case, the law would not count that particular respite as a rest break.

If it is not written in a worker’s employment contract they do not have any automatic or statutory rights to:

  • Take smoking breaks while at work.
  • Get paid for taking rest breaks while at the workplace.

Law on Exceptions and Special Circumstances

Some exemptions apply to the rights of workers for taking rest breaks at work. Others, such as shift workers, will have entitlement to compensatory rest breaks. Young workers, under 18, and lorry and coach drivers also have different rights to rest breaks.

Compensatory Rest Breaks

Not all workers have the legal right to a specified rest break. But, in these cases they should have entitlement to ‘compensatory rest’ instead. A compensatory rest break should be the same length of time as the one missed (or part of one).

Being entitled to compensatory rest breaks as an exception to the regulations may apply to those who:

  • Work shift patterns. It is often difficult to take daily or weekly rest breaks between the end of one shift and the start of the next one.
  • Travel a long distance from their home to their workplace location (e.g. oil rig workers).
  • Work in several different places which are a significant distance apart. Doing so often makes it difficult to work to a set pattern.
  • Work in security, surveillance-based activities, or an industry with peak times of the year (e.g. agriculture, postal services, retail, or tourism).
  • Are involved in an exceptional event, an accident, or an emergency. The same would apply if there was a risk that an accident was about to happen.
  • Are working in a job that needs round-the-clock 24 hour staffing. For example, a hospital that cannot have interruptions to any of its services.
  • Are employed in the rail industry and work on board trains, your activities are irregular, or they link to making sure trains run on time.
  • Have a ‘split’ working day (e.g. a cleaner who works for part of the morning and some of the evening).
  • Have a collective or workforce agreement that changes or excludes the restriction on rest breaks at work.

Note: As a rule, having an average of 90 hours a week rest is the total rest entitlement. Even so, it would not include the normal rest breaks taken at work.

Exceptions to Work Rest Breaks

The three generalised types of rest breaks would not apply to people who are working in:

  • Air, sea, or road transport (also called ‘mobile’ workers).
  • The armed forces, the police, and the emergency services when dealing with a disaster or catastrophe.
  • Domestic staff roles (e.g. servants) employed to help out in a private household.
  • Managerial positions that allow people to choose the set hours that they work (e.g. freelancers, company executives).

In most cases, special rules with different rights apply to those who work at sea, air, or road transportation. As a rule, ‘mobile’ workers have the right to regular rest to avoid health and safety issues (for themselves or anyone else).

Rest Breaks for Young Workers

Young workers are those classed above school leaving age but below the age of 18. As a rule, workers of a young age will have entitlement to:

  • A rest break of thirty (30) minutes if their employer expects them to work longer than 4.5 hours. Where possible, the rest should get taken as one continuous break.
  • A daily rest break of at least twelve (12) hours (11 hours for adults).
  • A weekly rest break of at least 48 hours (24 hours for adults).
Some Exceptions for Young Workers

An exceptional event, such as an accident, may mean a young worker cannot take their rest entitlements. But, the exceptions for young workers would only apply if:

  • There is no adult worker over the age of 18 who can perform the task.
  • There is an immediate need to do the work and it is a temporary situation.
Compensatory Rest Breaks for Young Workers

Young workers who are not entitled to rest breaks at work, or their daily rest, have the right for compensatory rest instead. It should equal the same amount of rest that they missed. They can take it after missing any rest periods, but must take it within three (3) weeks afterward.

Dealing with Rest Break Disputes

There are several ways workers can deal with disputes on workplace rest breaks. If they are unable to take their breaks, or their employer does not allow them to take them, they should:

Note: In some cases, a worker may be unable to solve the problem using these methods. A last resort may mean making a claim to an employment tribunal.

Rest Breaks and Break at Work Law in the United Kingdom