Break Entitlement for 8-Hour Shifts

Andrew Willis

Andrew Willis


22 Jul 2019


The Working Time Regulations. We’ve all heard of them, but do you know what they mean for your business… and your employees’ shifts?

If your employee works over 6 consecutive hours, they have a 20-minute break entitlement. However, there are situations where this isn’t the case. We’ll take a look at them here.


Break entitlements for an 8-hour shift

The simplest place to start is with those in full-time employment, working nine-to-five.

The statutory minimum break entitlement for an 8-hour shift in the UK is a 20-minute break. The break entitlement doesn’t increase the longer the shift becomes. So legally, someone working a 12-hour shift would still only require a 20-minute break.

If your employees are part-time, but working 8-hour shifts, the same rules apply.


Break entitlements for a 6-hour shift

Unlike 8-hour shift breaks, there are no break entitlements for employees working shifts of 6 hours or less.

However, as an employer, you do have a responsibility towards your employees’ wellbeing, so if they need a drink, or have to go to the bathroom, you should oblige the request, so long as they don’t start taking advantage.


The law on breaks at work for an 8-hour shift

The legal break times for an 8-hour shift is a minimum of 20 minutes. This is because the Working Time Regulations 1998 establish 3 types of rest break:

  1. Rest breaks at work.
  2. Daily rest.
  3. Weekly rest.

Rest breaks at work entitle workers to have one uninterrupted 20-minute rest break during their working day, so long as they work over 6 hours.

You don’t have to pay them for this break, but you should specify whether you’ll do so in their contract.

Daily rest refers to the right to 11 hours rest between working days. If an employee finished work at 8 pm, they shouldn’t start work until 7 am the next day.

Finally, weekly rest entitles workers to either:

  • An uninterrupted 24 hours without any work each week.
  • An uninterrupted 48 hours without work each fortnight.

These are the general rules that apply to most shifts in the UK workplace. However, there are exceptions.


When breaks aren’t necessary

The first exception is if the worker is part of the armed forces, emergency services, or police, and dealing with an exceptional catastrophe or disaster.

The other three exceptions are:

  1. A job where the employee freely chooses what hours they work, or there are no set hours.
  2. Sea transport.
  3. Air or road transport (mobile workers).

This doesn’t mean these employees are without rest rights. They just don’t have the entitlement that other workers have under the Working Time Regulations.


Young workers

If you employ individuals between the school leaving age and 18, they must have a 30-minute rest break if they work more than 4.5 hours.

They must also have a daily rest of 12 hours and a weekly rest of 48 hours.


How many breaks can you take in an 8-hour shift?

One question that crops up quite often is, “can I split my break into smaller, separate breaks?”

Technically, yes, but the employee must agree on the arrangement with you before doing so. The employee can’t choose to take four 5 minute breaks throughout the day without permission.


Compensatory break

Here’s a hypothetical scenario. A worker comes up to you at the end of the day and informs you they’ve worked over 6 hours, but haven’t had a break.

They might ask, “if I work 8 hours, what is my break?”

You can tell them they must receive 20 minutes by law, but they’re already near the end of their shift. What do you do?

That’s where compensatory rest comes in.

This essentially means they take their usual break, but at a later time, and for the same amount of time as their entitlement specifies.

Certain ‘special case’ workers are exempt from these rest break provisions and you can legitimately ask them to work through their rest breaks if:

  • They’re a shift worker who isn’t able to take daily or weekly rest periods between shifts.
  • There’s a genuine need for continuity of service around the clock, such as care workers.
  • There’s an unusual or unforeseeable circumstance that affects work, or an accident or risk of accident occurs.
  • They’re working in security or surveillance, which requires a permanent presence.
  • There’s a foreseeable surge in activity.
  • There’s a collective agreement excluding rest-break obligations.

You must provide them with compensatory rest at the next available opportunity.

In exceptional circumstances where it’s not possible (for objective reasons) to provide compensatory rest, then provide ‘appropriate protection’ that could include various different measures.

That could be a tactic such as looking at the way work is structured during the day to provide health checks.


Expert support

If you require support with the Working Time Regulations or any HR or employment law issue, speak to a Croner expert today on 0808 145 3380.

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.





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