Rest break at work

What is the law on rest breaks at work?

The subject of rest breaks at work is one which continues to attract rumours, lies and misunderstandings in equal measures. While there has been some movement in these regulations over the years, this has been minimal. Therefore, when in employment you need to know exactly what rest breaks you are entitled to, how to get them and what to do if your employer breaks the rules.

Before we look at your right to rest breaks in detail, there are some industries where there is no legal entitlement. In many of these cases an employee will be paid for their “rest breaks” but this will depend upon their employment contract.

Types of rest breaks at work

Many people are unaware but there are three different types of rest breaks in the workplace. They are:-

  • Breaks within the working day
  • Daily rest between shifts
  • Weekly rest days

We are all aware of the intraday break allowances but how many were aware of the daily and weekly regulations?

Rest breaks for those aged 18 and above

This is where we get down to the detail regarding breaks in the workplace. In basic terms, if you are aged 18 and above, and work more than six hours a day, you are entitled to:-

  • An uninterrupted 20 minute break during the day, as opposed to at the start or the end of your working day
  • A minimum 11 hour rest period between consecutive working shifts – this is especially important where employees are switching from night-shift to day-shift or vice versa
  • An average of at least one rest day per week, although this can be averaged out over a two week period

It is important to note that these are the statutory minimum requirements but many businesses will go above and beyond. Aside from the fact these are statutory requirements, it is important that employees are alert and focused while in the workplace – not over tired.

We have seen occasions where employers have pushed employees to the limit, leading to tiredness and mistakes. While these minimum statutory requirements are useful, all employers still have a legal obligation to protect the health and well-being of their employees. In the event of an accident at work due to tiredness, as a consequence of overworking, the employer may be liable for personal injury compensation.

Rest breaks for workers under the age of 18

There are specific regulations for those over school leaving age but under the age of 18. The regulations are as follows:-

  • If you work for more than four hours and 30 minutes during the day, you are entitled to a 30 minute rest break
  • There must be a minimum of 12 hours between each working shift
  • There is an entitlement to 2 rest days per week

There are some additional rules for those above school leaving age, but below 18 years of age, who work night shifts. These are as follows:-

  • Unless stipulated in your contract, you should not work between the hours of 10 PM and 6 AM
  • If you were asked to work until 11 PM, then you could not begin work again until at least 7 AM the following day
  • Under no circumstances are you able to work between midnight and 4 AM

It is worth noting that employment regulations have a greater hierarchic standing compared to employment contract clauses. So, even if your employment contract said that you would work until 1 AM this is not enforceable.

Exceptions to the rule

There are also a number of exceptions to these rules, which include employment in:-

  • Hospitals
  • Catering
  • Agriculture
  • Post/newspaper deliveries
  • Hotels
  • Retail

A number of specific activities are also exempt from these regulations:-

  • Cultural activities
  • Artistic activities
  • Sporting activities
  • Advertising activities

So, it is important to know your rights and the specific regulations surrounding your particular employment role. If you are unsure, your employer’s HR department/management will be able to clarify your situation.

What is a compensatory rest break?

We now move on to the subject of compensatory rest breaks, which are in effect flexible rest breaks. While the legal definition is “taken within a reasonable time from the missed break”, many employers are flexible on this subject. They will appreciate that you may need to work through a break to finish a specific task, which is obviously beneficial to them.

There are some standard employment positions which tend to attract compensatory/flexible rest breaks which include:-

  • Shift workers
  • Security guard
  • Roles where constant cover is required, such as a hospital

You should note that all employment regulations are a minimum requirement, and many employers will enhance/improve specific terms and conditions.

Challenging your employer about rest break entitlement

Unfortunately, some employers have been known to reduce/remove an employee’s legal entitlement to rest breaks. This can be done in a subtle manner or outright flouting of the rules and regulations. This is why it is important to know not only your legal entitlement regarding rest breaks, but also your basic employment rights.

There is a relatively straightforward procedure if your employer is not allowing you to take your rest break entitlement:-

  • Flag the issue with management in an informal manner
  • Submit a written grievance if you are still having issues
  • Take advice from your union representative/employment law experts
  • The final step is an employment tribunal

The vast majority of employers will make the necessary changes, once an issue has been flagged in a relatively informal manner. A small number may refuse to change their working practices and they will often feel the full force of the law. Obviously, in order to maintain a hospitable working relationship, nobody would choose to go down the route of written grievances/employment tribunals. These are literally last resorts!


For many years now there has been confusion with regards to employment laws on rest breaks. Indeed, many people were unaware of the three different types of rest break and their legal entitlement. Again, these regulations are minimum requirements and thankfully many employers will go above and beyond their legal obligations.

It is in the best interests of both employers and employees to cultivate a respectable working relationship. This helps the business and it also helps staff morale, but there are minimum standards when it comes to rest breaks at work that need to be respected.