As an employer, you should be aware that your employees are entitled to breaks while working. The law around breaks at work UK is linked to The Working Time Regulations 1998. This piece of legislation outlines mandatory breaks at work.
By UK law, an employee that works for more than 6 consecutive hours can take a 20-minute break. This also applies to 8-hour shifts, a common pattern in many industries. But what about the break entitlement for twelve-hour shifts in the UK?
The Working Time Regulations set the legal break requirements for employees in the UK. In this article, we will talk about what that means for your business, applied to various shift patterns.
The best way to avoid confusion over staff rest time is to include their break entitlement in their employment contract. Make sure you provide information about how it relates to the law. This way, you avoid further questioning about the legal basis for rest time offered in the workplace.
Break entitlement for 8-hour shift in the UK
Several industries benefit from shift work in the UK. Whether in retail, health & social care, construction or transport, workers get more flexibility with various patterns.
UK law standardises how much rest time staff must take, regardless of them doing shift work or a 9 to 5 office schedule. Referred to as working time directive breaks, the Working Time Regulations 1998 establish 3 types of rest periods:
- Rest break at work
- Daily rest
- Weekly rest break
Let us look at what each of these means.
Rest break rules at work refer to staff entitlement to take a break allowance of one uninterrupted 20-minute rest period during their working day. This applies when they have worked more than six hours. The law on the statutory minimum length of rest breaks at work for an 8-hour shift stays the same as for any shift longer than 6 hours.
What about break entitlement for a 10-hour shift in the UK? Again, by law, it stays the same, unless the company decides on offering more rest time at work. This also applies as a break entitlement for a 12-hour shift in the UK.
This can be an unpaid break. However, you should specify whether you’ll do so in their employment contract. Also, remember that you do not have to stick to the minimum rest time prescribed by the law. We will talk more about this aspect further down.
Daily rest refers to the right to 11 hours of uninterrupted rest break between working days. If an employee finishes work at 9 pm, they shouldn’t start work until 8 am the next day.
Weekly rest breaks entitle workers to either:
- An uninterrupted 24 hours without any work each week
- An uninterrupted 48 hours without work each fortnight
How many hours can you work without a break?
We see employers getting asked this question frequently by their workers. The answer is not as straightforward as it may seem.
Again, the rule highlighted above applies. Their break entitlement remains that of 20 minutes when employees work for more than 6 hours.
What if they work 13 or 14 hours a day over a particularly busy period for the company? The main restriction in this case relates to the 11 hours daily rest requirement.
Let’s say an Events Producer and part of the events team stay late the evening before a big industry fair. They have the company stand set up, and a few transport issues delayed their schedule. So, they finish everything at 10 pm, 3 hours later than planned. In this case, they need to adapt the schedule going forward as to leave the 11 hours legally recommended break.
The Events Producer can decide to send part of the team home in time so that they can start early the next day.
Exceptions to legal break requirements
Employee break entitlement changes in certain industries. As a rule, the nature of their work activity doesn’t always allow for the three types of rest breaks.
The government health and safety executive, identifies the armed forces, emergency services and police as the top three sectors. When these deal with emergency situations, where the lives and well-being of others depend on them, taking those 20 minutes after 10 hours of work might not be possible.
The following categories of employees are also exempt from the general Working Time Regulations:
- Workers who freely choose what hours they do (such as a CEO), or who don’t have set hours of work
- Sea transport workers
- Air or road transport (also known as ‘mobile’ workers)
Further exceptions apply to security staff and shift workers. One type of situation refers to employees choosing to change shifts. The full daily rest doesn’t apply if the pattern they chose means they cannot take it fully between the end of one shift and the beginning of the next one. However, they should be getting compensatory rest as soon as reasonably possible.
Workers can also choose to opt out of the 48-hour week, so they can work longer shifts. However, they must still have adequate breaks, unless they choose not to take rest time at work.
How to best manage employee regular breaks
Everything we’ve talked about so far relates to minimum legal requirements. However, you decide what fits the nature of your business and your workforce better. As a business leader, you do not need to only offer the minimum to your employees if you don’t have to.
Many office-based companies tend to specify a 45-minute to one-hour lunch or general break for lunch in their employment contracts. Now, there are no tea or lunch break laws in the UK as such. Still, strictly from a productivity point of view, it benefits employees to break their working day for a midday meal. They will feel refreshed, and more energised, and thus gain improved focus and drive.
On the other hand, we have seen factory-based companies offer three short breaks during 12-hour shifts. These tend to amount to one hour of rest time per day. If employees do repetitive, monotonous work standing on the production line for hours, such a break pattern may benefit their health.
You should always prioritise your employees’ health and minimise health & safety risks. Think of how much an accident on the shop floor will cost in terms of production and health loss. If an experienced worker ends up on sick leave for months, it will potentially cost you much more than two 15 minutes coffee breaks in addition to their lunch rest.
Adapt your approach accordingly to ensure you look at all shift schedules.
Break entitlement in shift work – FAQ
Where the law talks in rather general terms and refers to bigger periods of times, it can get confusing. Our advisors get regularly asked two questions regarding break entitlement in shift work. We will list both of them below, together with the one answer that applies to both questions:
- How many breaks in an 8-hour shift in the UK?
- How many breaks in a 12-hour shift in the UK?
As we mentioned, we only have one answer. The law specifies an interrupted 20-minute rest that they can take away from their desk or workstation. However, ACAS recognises certain situations where the worker might need to take two 10-minute breaks instead. If an accident happens, a delay or another emergency, you can decide on such a variation.
Now, if in a work-related emergency, your employee couldn’t take their rest at all, you have another option available. You can offer them compensatory rest breaks.
This essentially means they take their usual rest but at a later time. Compensatory breaks cover their exact entitlement, which they will benefit from, let’s say, the next working day. You must provide them with compensatory rest at the next available opportunity.
Talk to a Croner HR advisor
As an employer, managing shift work comes with its challenges, including staff breaks. You will want to balance minimum break entitlement with productivity and operational costs. Our advisors have seen how cutting corners can end up costing you more when it causes accidents and compensation claims.
Don’t risk mismanaging staff breaks and end up with unnecessary workplace conflicts on your hands. You don’t have to do this alone. Call our friendly advisors today to discuss what rest pattern would suit your business and your workforce best, on 01455 858 132.
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