Breaks during the working day
An employee has the right to an uninterrupted break of at least 20 minutes if they work more than 6 hours in a day.
The employee has the right to take this break:
- away from their workstation (for example, away from their desk)
- at a time that’s not the very start or end of the working day
This break is unpaid unless either:
- the employment contract says it’s paid
- both sides agree it’s paid
Changes to how this break is taken
In some cases, an employee might have to take this break in different ways. This could be if something happens at work that’s unexpected and outside of the employer’s control, such as an accident. For example, the break could be taken as 2 separate 10-minute breaks.
You can speak to an Acas adviser if you have questions about how rest breaks should be taken.
It’s up to the employer whether they offer longer or extra breaks in the working day, such as:
- a lunch hour
- cigarette breaks for smokers
Check the employment contract for any rules for these breaks, such as whether they’re paid.
Breaks between working days
An employee should get at least 11 hours’ uninterrupted rest between finishing work and starting work the next day. If this is not possible (for example, there’s an emergency at work), the employer must take steps to provide enough rest for the employee.
Breaks during the working week or longer
An employee is also entitled to one of these:
- in a 7-day period, 24 hours of rest
- in a 14-day period, 48 hours of rest (this is often taken as one block of time, but can be 2 separate 24-hour breaks if the employer decides)
Shift workers might not be entitled to the full legal rest breaks for the working day or week if both of these points apply:
- they change shift patterns, for example they move from a night to a day shift
- there is not enough time to take the full rest break, for example there’s less than 11 hours between one day’s shift and the next
The same applies to employees whose work is split up over the day (‘split shifts’). For example, a cleaner who works from 6am to 9am, and again from 3pm to 7pm.
Employers should still do their best so that shift workers get their full legal rest breaks.
Changes to rest breaks
If an employee needs to miss a rest break for business reasons (for example, there’s an emergency at work or they’re changing shift pattern), their employer must make sure the break is taken in a different way. This is sometimes known as ‘compensatory rest’.
Zero hours workers usually have the same rights to rest breaks as other employees.
There are different rules for night workers.
Jobs with different rules on rest breaks
There are different rules for rest breaks for certain jobs. For example:
- lorry and coach drivers
- air, road and sea transport workers
- the armed forces and emergency services
If you’re not getting the correct rest breaks
If you believe you’re not getting the breaks you’re entitled to, it’s best to first raise the issue with your employer.