Employers should encourage employees to take their breaks, but are there any penalties for the employer if employees don’t take them?
The Working Time Regulations 1998 (WTR) sets out the rest breaks workers are entitled to.
Workers over 18 are usually entitled to 3 types of break – rest breaks at work, daily rest and weekly rest.
Rest breaks at work
Workers have the right to one uninterrupted 20 minute rest break during their working day, if they work more than 6 hours a day. This could be a tea or lunch break.
The break doesn’t have to be paid – it depends on their employment contract.
Workers have the right to 11 hours rest between working days, e.g. if they finish work at 8pm, they shouldn’t start work again until 7am the next day.
Workers have the right to either:
an uninterrupted 24 hours without any work each week
an uninterrupted 48 hours without any work each fortnight
A worker’s employment contract may say they’re entitled to more or different rights to breaks from work.
Employers can say when employees take rest breaks during work time as long as:
the break is taken in one go somewhere in the middle of the day (not at the beginning or end)
workers are allowed to spend it away from their desk or workstation (i.e. away from where they actually work)
It doesn’t count as a rest break if an employer says an employee should go back to work before their break is finished.
Unless a worker’s employment contract says so, they don’t have the right to:
take smoking breaks
get paid for rest breaks
Making up for missed rest breaks
There are exceptions and sometimes an employee might need to work when they’re supposed to be resting. The employer should still make sure the employee takes their break later, or in a different way (known as ‘compensatory rest’).
Employers must provide compensatory rest when the employee’s job involves providing a service that runs for a long time uninterrupted (‘continuity of service or production’). Examples include:
agricultural work during harvest times
Other cases when the employer must provide compensatory rest are when:
the business expects more work than usual (a ‘foreseeable surge of activity’)
there’s an emergency, or anything else unexpected and outside of the employer’s control
It’s a good idea for the employee and employer to agree together how the compensatory rest is taken. This break should be the same length and type (an ‘equivalent period’) as the missed break.
Lack of breaks and the link with stress or illness
Research has shown that employees who don’t take regular breaks are more likely to suffer from stress or become ill. Should an employee become ill demonstrably as a result of not having taken breaks, it’s possible that a personal injury claim could be brought by the employee under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, even though it may be difficult to show a direct link between the illness and the lack of breaks.
In essence, despite the link being difficult to prove, any issues of employees becoming ill due to excessive work, or as a result of not taking breaks, should be investigated and dealt with promptly. Whether employees are working remotely, in the office, or at another place of work, rest breaks should be actively encouraged and all efforts made by employers to ensure workers take them. If employees are also VDU users, they should also have time away from the VDU screen at regular intervals throughout the day.
For more information on how we can provide you with HR support on any of the HR topics listed here, contact us on 07762 629448, or click here.
Disclaimer:Materials and Information included within the Specialist HR Solutions Ltd, Articles and News are provided free of charge and are for reference purposes only. They are not intended as a substitute for professional advice, or to provide legal or other advice with respect to particular circumstances. While every effort is made to ensure that the contents of these articles are up-to-date and accurate at the time of publication to the website, no warranty is given to that effect and Specialist HR Solutions Ltd does not assume responsibility for their accuracy and correctness.