Breaks at Work

In the workplace, all employees are entitled to rest breaks.

It’s vital you understand the reasons behind breaks, as well as the laws on breaks on rest periods.

If employees don’t follow the rules, they could risk disciplinary action and face complaints made to an employment tribunal.

To ensure this doesn’t happen, you’ll need to follow the correct process for employee breaks at work.

In this guide, we’ll explain what a rest break is, what the rest break laws are, and how to ensure the health & safety of your employees at work.

What is a Rest Break?

A rest break at work is the time away from any work duties. This time can be used to leave the office or work area to eat or drink. Some employers may require their employees to stay within the office premises.

There are many types of employee breaks, so you should try and understand why they are taken.

What Are the Laws on Breaks at Work?

The Working Time Regulations 1998 state that employees must have adequate rest periods at work.

Employees who work over six hours a day, have the legal right to one twenty minute rest during their working day. This break must be uninterrupted, or you may end up paying a hefty fine.

UK law gives employees the right to eleven hours of rest between shifts. This is usually given as an overnight break between working days.

What is the Minimum Rest Break for Employees?

Employees must receive at least 20 minutes of rest for every 6 hours of work.

This should not be interrupted and can be taken away from the workspace.

Are Breaks at Work Paid?

Under the Working Time Regulations 1998, there is no requirement for you to pay for rest breaks.

An employee’s contract may state they can receive the minimum wage for their rest breaks.

Types of Rest Breaks at Work

At work, your employees may take regular rests for multiple reasons.

Adult workers (over the age of 18 years old) have an entitlement to different types of res periods, for example:

  • Rest breaks during work – e.g., tea, lunch, or toilet.
  • Breaks between shifts – e.g., the rest between finishing one day’s work and starting the next.
  • Weekly rest periods - e.g., full days when employees don’t come into work.

Employees have the right to weekly rest periods in some sectors, such as transportation (e.g., lorry drivers). They also have the right to one full day of rest per week.

Employees have the right to either:

  • One uninterrupted break of 24 hours without work per week.
  • One uninterrupted break of 24 hours without work each fortnight.

Smoke Breaks at Work

The law doesn’t entitle employees to take smoke breaks at work. But employees can use their statutory breaks at work to smoke outside if they choose to.

Toilet Breaks at Work

It can become frustrating when an employee is spending a large amount of time in the toilet.

It’s important to remember that everyone’s body is different. Outside factors can play a part in how frequently the toilet is needed.

The average person uses the toilet six or seven times during the day. So, during the working shift, they may use the toilet two or three times.

If you need to implement toilet restrictions, do so as a last resort.

What are Pregnancy Rights for Work Breaks?

Pregnant employees may need to use the toilet more than others. You need to make allowances for this or else you may face discrimination claims.

You must also provide a pregnant woman somewhere to rest and lie down if necessary.

Get Advice on Breaks at Work with BrightHR

As an employer, you have a duty of care to provide your employers with breaks. This is to ensure the health & safety of your workers and avoiding any risks.

If breaks are not given, you could face unfair treatment claims and complains made to an employment tribunal.

To ensure you don’t face any fines, BrightHR can help you manage breaks at work. If you need any assistance on laws on breaks at work, don’t hesitate to get in touch with one of our experts.

Book in a free demo today to see how easy it is. Give us a call on [0800 783 2806](tel:0800 783 2806)

Have a question?

Ask away, we’ve got lightning fast answers for UK business owners and employers powered by qualified experts.


    Share this article

    More on employee conduct

    Employee attitudes at work

    In the middle of that chain is employee attitude — when employees are happy and engaged, attitudes and productivity are more likely to be…

    What is discipline in the workplace?

    71% of workplaces report zero disputes or incidents of conflict in a year (CIPD 2015). But what happens when an employee disciplinary issue…

    Gossip in the Workplace

    It’s only natural for employees to get to know each other. In fact, it’s great for business if your staff members get along. But over time…

    What is a grievance at work?

    When employees have a concern or complaint at work, they can take it up with you as a grievance. Typically the situation comes about due to…

    Gross misconduct at work

    What is gross misconduct? Gross misconduct covers a long list of offences that staff members could commit at work. This behaviour is…

    How should you define misconduct in your workplace?

    Occasionally, your employees might engage in behaviour that goes against your business procedures. You can make it clear what you expect…

    Do you have a mobile phone usage policy?

    If you don't have a mobile phone policy at work, this guide will help you draw one up. And if you do already have one we're sure you'll find…

    What is professional misconduct?

    There is a common sense approach to this. For example, if someone is frequently arriving twenty minutes late in the morning then this would…

    Is serious insubordination grounds for dismissal?

    What is serious insubordination? Serious insubordination is an example of gross misconduct where an employee refuses to follow sound…

    How to manage problems with social media in the workplace

    Social media in the workplace comes with its difficulties—you've no doubt already faced some. When your staff scroll through their personal…

    What are formal and informal warnings at work?

    If an employee’s work, conduct at work, or absence is generating frequent concern within the business, their employer may begin the…

    What can you do to improve employee work ethic?

    What’s work ethic, then? It’s the principle that hard work is of great benefit and will improve an employee’s abilities and character…

    Emotional intelligence in the workplace

    In the modern business world, there’s a greater emphasis on good mental health than in any other previous generations. For the first time…

    How should you handle an office romance?

    When two employees engage in a romantic relationship of any kind, it's a workplace affair. This includes extramarital affairs in the…