Workers' Rights: Breaks

By Andrew Willis
10 Apr 2019

While most employees have the right to take breaks at work, as a business owner it’s not mandatory that you pay for them.

The Working Time Regulations (1998) governs legislation surrounding your staff member’s rights to adequate breaks. It entitles those over the age of 18 to three types:

  • Rest breaks at work: Guarantees employees 20 uninterrupted minutes of rest during their working day. It only applies to staff that work over six hours a day—again, you don't have to pay for that time if you don’t want to.
  • Daily rest: Is the employee’s right to have at least 11 hours off between working days.
  • Weekly rest: Requires your employees to have at least 24 uninterrupted hours without work each week (or an uninterrupted 48 hours every fortnight).

What is the law on breaks at work?

Employees working more than six hours a day have the right to at least a 20-minute rest break.

While this is the legal minimum requirement, you can offer longer or more frequent rest periods.

It can be worthwhile including your staff’s rights to breaks within your employment contract to avoid confusion.

And while you’re required to adhere to legal break requirements and honour your employees’ rights to lunch breaks and toilet breaks you do have control over when they take them. For example:

  • Staff don’t have to take their break entitlement in the middle of the day, it just can’t be tagged on at the start or finish of it—it’s possible to take a break at 9:15 am if desired.
  • Staff members can spend it away from their desks or workstations.

There are exceptions to consider. Some workers aren’t entitled to the three types—this applies to employees working in:

  • The police, armed forces or other emergency services.
  • A job where the work is not measured (managing director).
  • Sea transport.
  • Air or road transport (mobile workers).

In most cases, sea, air and road transport UK workers’ rights to breaks will have a set of rules that offer them different rest rights.

Mobile employees have the right to regular rest breaks. They can take 30 minutes in blocks of 15 minutes if the day is between six to nine hours and 45 minutes if it exceeds it. This is to avoid putting their—or anyone else’s—health & safety at risk.

Breaks at work when pregnant

You must conduct a risk assessment as soon as your employee tells you they’re pregnant.

The aim of the assessment is to determine if there are any risks to the employee and their baby.

Among other considerations, you should assess the risk of standing or sitting without adequate rest periods.

If you do identify issues, you must make reasonable adjustments to eliminate them.

Are paid 15-minute breaks required by law?

You're not obliged to pay employees for their rest periods.

You may decide to offer your staff payment at your discretion. But it’s important to remember you can’t discriminate against employees, so the offer should be consistent across the board.

How long can an employer make you work without a break?

Employees have the right to not work more than 48 hours per week on average.

They do have to option of an opt-out agreement, which indicates they agree to work more than the 48-hour limit.

Expert advice

For support with sourcing and building your business’ employment contracts and HR policies contact Croner on 01455 858 132.

About the Author

Andrew Willis

Andrew Willis is the senior manager of the Litigation and Employment Department and assumes additional responsibility for managing Croner’s office based telephone HR advisory teams, who specialise in employment law, HR and commercial legal advice for small & large organisations across the United Kingdom.