The Law on Work Rest Breaks Explained

Workers over the age of 18 years are generally entitled to three different types of rest break during the working day. These are rest breaks at work; daily rest and weekly rest. Here we are taking a look at each of these three types of break.

Rest breaks at work

Anyone who works more than six hours per day is entitled to one 20-minute rest break during the day. Whether this is a tea break or a lunch break is up to the employer, and whether the break should be paid for is a matter to be set out in the employment contract. There is no law to dictate that rest breaks should be paid.

Daily rest breaks

Workers have the right to a minimum of 11 hours rest between their working days. So for example, anyone finishing work at 5pm should not start work again until 4am the next day.

Weekly rest

There are two main rights that workers hold with regard to weekly rest. The first is a right to an interrupted 24 hours without any work each week. The second is an uninterrupted 48 hours without any work each fortnight.

Different workplaces, different contracts

Some employment contracts may state that the worker is entitled to more or different breaks from work. Providing the minimums are honoured, it is up to the employer to set out the details of the breaks.

Employers must give their workforce sufficient breaks to ensure their health and safety is not put at risk. This is particularly important when work is monotonous, for example production line work. Workers in domestic private houses, for example au pairs or cleaners, are not entitled to rest breaks for health and safety reasons.

Rest break timings

Employers are able to state when employees take rest breaks during work time, providing they meet certain criteria. One of these criteria is that the break is taken in one go somewhere in the middle of the day, i.e. not right at the beginning or end of the day. The other is that workers are allowed to spend their breaks away from their workstation.

If an employer insists that a member of staff returns to work before their break is finished, then the break does not count. In other words, workers must be allowed to take their full breaks.

Other rights regarding breaks

Unless it is specifically set out in a worker's employment contract, members of staff do not have the right to take breaks for smoking, or get paid for rest breaks.

Special circumstances and exceptions

Some workers, for example shift workers, are entitled to compensatory rest breaks. Lorry and coach drivers, and young people, have different rights when it comes to rest breaks.

For more information, visit https://www.gov.uk/rest-breaks-work. You can also talk to your local bookkeepers who will point you in the right direction when it comes to staff rest breaks.

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