The minimum amount of time off that should be provided to a worker is set out in the Working Time Regulations 1998, and this covers various types of time off. Minimum annual leave is included, as are weekly and daily rest breaks.

The Regulations also cover the amount of break time that a worker should have during the working day. There are different entitlements depending on how old the worker is, and the entitlements are commonly misunderstood.

Contractual lunch breaks will differ greatly from organisation to organisation and employers are entitled to fix these as they wish provided that they do not provide any less than the minimum expressed in the legislation.

The minimum break that a worker should have in his working day is 20 minutes where his working hours are more than 6 hours. Note that the working hours must be more than 6 in order to attract a break. Therefore, if a worker works from 8am – 2pm, the entitlement to a statutory break is not triggered. Naturally an employer may still provide a break if they choose.

The situation is slightly different for ‘young’ workers i.e. those who are above compulsory school age but not yet 18 are entitled to a minimum of 30 minutes break if their working time is more than 4½ hours.

Children – those still within compulsory school age – have separate rules again.

There are no rules on when, during the day the break should be set for, except that, where entitled, workers must be allowed to take their break during the daily working periods as opposed to it being tagged on right at the beginning or the end of the daily working period. The worker is entitled to take the break away from their workstation.

Employees are protected against unfair dismissal and action short of dismissal for taking or attempting to take their entitlement to rest breaks or weekly rest periods.

There is no requirement to pay an employee for their lunch break.

As mentioned above, the Working Time Regulations provide for several types of time off work, some paid and some unpaid. If you require more information on the entitlements, please contact the 24 Hour Advice Service.