Legal Break Requirements for UK Workers 2023

legal break requirements
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

The majority of employees are eligible for one uninterrupted 20-minute rest break in addition to daily and weekly breaks when working more than six hours a day. Diligently meeting the legal break requirements prevents complications.

Rest breaks must be accounted for properly, but staff management can become quite complicated due to the numerous regulations in place. Furthermore, certain employees, including those in the medical forces and emergency services, lack an inherent legal entitlement to rest breaks. In what manner are rest breaks considered and precisely computed?

In this article, we will get to know the meaning of rest breaks, their advantages to employees and employers, what to do during your break time, how to contest your employer’s rest break provision and which personnel are governed by the legal break regulations.

What Are Rest Breaks?

During designated rest breaks, personnel are removed from their routine work responsibilities. After working for a duration exceeding six hours, it is customary for an adult employee to be granted a twenty-minute break. Fulfilling the legal break requirements prevents complications. If an employee works more than six hours per day, they are entitled to a single, uninterrupted twenty-minute rest break. This may consist of a lunch or tea break. 

Which Law in the United Kingdom Regulates Rest Breaks on the Job?

The legal entitlement to a rest break varies among employees and is contingent upon the specific circumstances. The directive outlined in the Working Time Regulations (1998) governs this. Employees who exceed six hours of work in a single day are granted a twenty-minute uninterrupted break.

Three Common Types of Rest Break in the UK

Workers in the United Kingdom who are 18 years of age or older are typically granted three types of rest breaks, as stipulated in The Working Time Regulations 1998: rest breaks at work, daily rest, and weekly rest. In contrast, it is generally impermissible to require young workers, encompassing individuals over the age of school leaving and under 18 years old, to exceed eight hours of daily or forty hours of weekly work. Consequently, how do these decompose?

#1. Workplace Rest Breaks

When working beyond six hours per day, employees have a legal entitlement to one uninterrupted twenty-minute rest break. The employer is not obligated to provide payment for the break, which may consist of a tea or lunch break, contingent on the terms of the employee’s employment contract. These rest breaks should be scheduled in advance and completed throughout the workday; neither the beginning nor the end of the workday should be considered. 

Additionally, every employee is entitled to an uninterrupted rest break in a location other than their work area, such as away from their desk. An employee’s eligibility for additional rest breaks does not automatically increase when their workday exceeds six hours. Consequently, an individual who completes a 12-hour work shift does not qualify for a 40-minute break; however, employers ought to contemplate the matter and, whenever possible, provide extended breaks.

It has become customary in numerous sectors of the United Kingdom to offer a daily lunch break of one hour. However, research indicates that only one in every five employees continues to observe the full lunch hour.

#2. Daily Rest Breaks

11 hours of rest between workdays is a legal requirement for workers. To illustrate, an individual who completes their workday at 9 p.m. ought to refrain from returning until 8 a.m. the subsequent day. 

#3. Weekly Rest Breaks

Employees are entitled to the subsequent weekly rest periods:

  • 24 hours per week off from work.
  • Fortnightly absences of 48 hours from work

Weekly breaks for rest should be unbroken. The extent to which an employee is entitled to rest breaks may vary or be specified in their employment contract. Workers and employees are legally entitled to break wherever they are engaged in work, including their homes or workplaces. Included in the right to rest are the following:

  • The staff
  • Employees
  • Agency Workers 
  • The Apprentices
  • Seasonal and casual employees
  • Physicians in training
  • zero-hours employees

Which Personnel Are Governed by Rest Break Regulations?

Certain jobs do not present hazards to health and safety when employees do not take breaks. Maintaining legal standing requires adherence to legal break requirements. Under these circumstances, a break is not legally permissible. When the demands of the job outweigh any potential dangers, as in the emergency services and armed forces, the situation is different.

The following are some instances in which these laws do not apply:

  • Self-employed individuals
  • Domestic personnel employed in private residences
  • Maritime transport personnel
  • Personnel transport via air or road
  • Positions without set work hours, such as that of a managing director.

When Are Rest Breaks Permitted for Employees?

Many of us, if given the option, would likely prefer to relax at home on Friday evenings and begin the weekend early. However, specific regulations govern when an employee is permitted to take a break so that they may ensure they are getting sufficient rest between tasks.

As per WTR policy, employees are only permitted to take a single-item break during the workday, not at the start or finish. Additionally, an employer cannot arbitrarily determine that a worker must return to work before the conclusion of their break. This would render the provision of time off futile.

What Occurs if a Worker Is Unable to Take a Rest Break?

Compensatory rest may be required of an employee in extraordinary situations where they are unable to take a break during their shift. As an illustration, suppose an employee is engaged in security and surveillance-related tasks while a coworker simultaneously requires a break. The break should be scheduled for a later time and have the same duration as a designated rest break in this particular situation.

The Advantages of Rest Breaks for Employers

Every employer must adhere to the legally mandated entitlements for workplace breaks. Failure to comply could result in a penalty for breaking the WTR.

On the contrary, business owners can benefit from a plethora of authentic benefits that supplement this responsibility.

  • Enhanced efficiency

A daily break protects against writer’s block. Strangely enough, employees are more inclined to meet objectives and deadlines after having a sufficient period to recuperate and reorient themselves.

  • Diminution of conflict risk

Employees who are overworked and frazzled are more likely to vent their frustrations to their coworkers. Therefore, ensuring that employees set aside sufficient time for themselves can be considered a strategy for resolving conflicts.

  • Reduced rate of employee attrition

As more workers disclosed experiencing burnout, employee attrition surpassed the rate of inflation in the previous year. Providing employees with sufficient breathing room is the most straightforward method to reduce stress and prevent high-performing individuals from departing prematurely.

  • Increased employee involvement

Employees who are happier and healthier foster a positive work environment, which in turn motivates staff members to put forth their best efforts. Work breaks are an excellent way to increase employee engagement and ensure that employees have the energy to work diligently at their desks.

  • Additional time for innovation

A break could be perceived as an act of slacking off. However, research indicates that working during a break can be more productive. A walk, or even a simple change of scenery, can provide the mental faculties and energy necessary to generate an organic solution to a given problem.

What Should Employees Do During Their Break Time?

Employers are required by WTR to provide workers with the means to spend their rest break away from their desks or workstations. This is intended to promote a complete 20-minute unplugging from work among employees.

However, that does not mean you have no authority over the activities that your employees engage in while on break. After all, a rest break will not be fully utilised if a coworker spends their lunch hour scrolling through TikTok while seated in the same position.

Business owners can encourage employees to maximise their time off by promoting activities that have been shown to increase productivity, including:

  • Waking
  • Eating healthily
  • Practising
  • Doodling
  • Napping

Contesting Your Employer’s Rest Break Provisions

Sadly, there have been instances in which employers denied or reduced an employee’s legal right to rest breaks. This may be accomplished overtly, disregarding the rules and regulations or covertly.

For this reason, it is critical to be knowledgeable not only of your legal rest break entitlements but also of your fundamental employment rights.

There exists a comparatively uncomplicated process to follow if an employer denies an employee the opportunity to utilise their rest break entitlement:-

  • Inform management of the concern in an informal fashion
  • Submit a written complaint if the problems persist
  • Consult with your union representative or employment law specialists
  • Finally, an employment tribunal is convened

Following a relatively informal notification of an issue, the overwhelming majority of employers will implement the required modifications. Those few who are unwilling to alter their working methods will frequently be met with the full force of the law. It is evident that in the pursuit of preserving a cordial professional rapport, individuals would abstain from resorting to written grievances or employment tribunals. In actuality, these are the last resorts! Severe consequences may follow from engaging in actions that break legal requirements.

How Many Days Can You Legally Work in the UK Without Taking a Day Off?

Every adult worker has the right to one day off every week. Days off can be averaged over a two-week period, giving you two days off every two weeks. Adult workers are entitled to a 20-minute rest break if they labour for more than six hours in a row.

Can Rest Breaks Be Paid or Unpaid?

Employees don’t need to remunerate their employees during their breaks. However, failing to compensate employees during their breaks may discourage them from availing themselves of the time off; therefore, we advise organisations to provide paid rest periods.

Can an Employer Prescribe My Break Activities?

No. An employee is not restricted to working during their rest break; they may engage in any activity of their choosing. Managers should therefore encourage workers to take their breaks away from their desks or workstations so that they can effectively disconnect from the spreadsheets.

As part of the implementation of the WTD in the United Kingdom, the Working Time Regulations (WTR) permit employers to offer a 48-hour rest period within a 14-day reference period as opposed to a 24-hour rest period within a seven-day reference period.

Do Rest Breaks Correspond to Lunch Breaks?

Lunch breaks may be designated as rest periods, as stipulated in the employment contract. The fundamental purpose of the working regulations is to ensure the employee’s health and safety. To ensure this health and safety, it would be necessary to provide the employee with adequate time to acquire food for the day.

Regarding Rest Breaks, Does Employment Law Apply to Emergency Services Personnel?

The Working Time Regulations do not apply to the armed forces and emergency services because the demands of their occupations outweigh the potential hazards to their safety and health.

No, employees are not entitled to smoking breaks if their employer declines to provide such opportunities. Chefs all over the country are unaware that managers have the authority to legally prohibit smoking breaks. However, we do not advise business owners to proceed with this course of action. An employee taking a ten-minute smoke break is considerably less disruptive than one who is eagerly anticipating their next nicotine fix.


Regarding rest breaks, there has been considerable uncertainty regarding employment regulations for many years. Many individuals were unaware of their legal entitlement to the three distinct types of rest breaks. The fundamental sustainability of any business requires meeting all legal break requirements.

Once more, these regulations are merely minimum requirements; fortunately, a significant number of employers will go above and beyond their legal duties. Employees and employers alike benefit from the development of a respectful professional relationship. While providing rest breaks at work can be advantageous for the organisation and employee morale, it is crucial to adhere to certain minimum standards.


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