Breaks at Work

  • Working Time
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Peninsula Group, HR and Health & Safety Experts

(Last updated )

Breaks at work are an important part of working life. Both leally and for staff welfare. Let’s explore further so you stay compliant and have a healthy workforce.

We all need time to rest regularly. It gives our minds a break from everyday stress, as well as improving our mood and overall health.

As an employer, it's important that you provide your staff with breaks at work. Not only is it a legal requirement, but it's vital for your employees's wellbeing and could even boost productivity.

In this guide, we'll discuss the different types of rest breaks, what the law says, and what breaks employers must provide.

What is a break at work?

A work break is a brief period of time when an employee steps away from work duties. They may take this time to rest and recharge their batteries.

This could include going to the toilet or grabbing something to eat and drink. Employees may even take a short walk to get some fresh air.

What is the legal requirement for breaks at work?

The Working Time Regulations 1998 law governs rest breaks. Under the law, employers must provide breaks. Employers can decide when these breaks are taken. And there are several types of breaks they may offer.

These include:

  • Rest breaks at work.
  • Daily rest breaks.
  • Weekly rest breaks.
  • Toilet breaks.

Let's explore these breaks in more detail.

Rest breaks at work

According to the law, employees that work more than six hours a day must receive at least one twenty-minute rest break. This can be taken as a tea or lunch break. But, these entitlements only apply to workers aged 18 or over.

Daily rest breaks

A daily rest break is another worker entitlement. It means that employees have the right to 11 hours of rest between working days.

For example, if a supermarket worker finishes a shift at 10 pm, legally, they should not start work again until 9 am the next day.

Weekly rest breaks

Weekly rest periods give workers the right to an uninterrupted period of time without work each week.

The law states weekly rest workers have a right to either:

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

Toilet breaks

There is presently no law which states the minimum amount of toilet breaks an employee should receive. This means you can adjust this to suit your workplace.

However, you should consider those with health issues, as well as the health & safety of your staff when it comes to toilet breaks.

Do all employers have to provide regular breaks to staff?

Legally, some employers offer their staff breaks in a different way. This depends on the industry they work in.

These exemptions apply to:

  • The armed forces, emergency services or police force. 
  • A job where the employee chooses what hours they work. For example, a managing director.
  • Air and road transport workers. Also known as mobile workers.
  • Domestic workers in a private house (eg a cleaner or au pair) aren’t entitled to rest breaks for health and safety reasons.

Do you have to pay employees during breaks at work?

The law does not require employers to pay their workers for rest breaks. Whether you pay for their breaks at work depends on what is written in the

Do employers have to provide smoking breaks?

No, the law does not require employers to have a smoking break policy. And, unless you discuss it previously or put it in their contract, workers should take their smoke breaks within their rest period.

Should pregnant employees receive more work breaks?

Employers should consider offering pregnant employees more frequent rest breaks. Especially if the employee has requested it. The frequency and timing of which they should agree with their employer.

Breaks at work for under 18's

Young workers - who are above compulsory school leaving age but under 18 - have different break entitlements.

This includes:

  • A 30-minute rest break if they work more than 4.5 hours.
  • Daily rest period of 12 hours.
  • Weekly rest period of 48 hours.

What are compensatory rest breaks?

You may require an employee to work through their rest break. And if so, they have compensatory rest entitlement.

A compensatory rest break is the same amount of time as a normal rest break. And is where an employee takes their rest later or in a different way.

Get expert advice from Peninsula

As an employer, it's important you provide adequate breaks for your workers.

With enough rest time, your employees's happiness and productivity at work could increase. And, your business could receive a boost in customers, sales, and ultimately grow as a result.

But, if your company doesn't offer rest breaks - or a satisfactory break time at work, you could face employment tribunal claims, legal costs, and even reputational damage.

Peninsula offers you expert 24/7 HR advice and support, helping you manage employee breaks at work, as well as offering employment contract advice. Contact us on 0800 029 4383.

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