How Many Breaks in a 12 hour Shift? Legal Requirements & Entitlements

Wondering how many breaks you are entitled to during a 12 hour shift? Our guide looks at your rights to breaks during long shifts at work, and how long you can expect them to be.

When working longer shifts, you also need to be aware of minimum rest periods between shifts, and your right to days off.

The Working Time Directive Law & Breaks

The Working Time Directive applies to most adult workers, including those who work part time, or are employed by an agency.

These regulations also govern rest periods between shifts, and how many hours per week employees should be working. There are harsh penalties for employers who breach these regulations.

Regardless of their contract type, all workers are entitled to adequate rest during and between shifts. The right to breaks is statutory. You can’t be disadvantaged at work because you asked for your proper break entitlement.

Legal Break Entitlement on 12 Hour Shifts

You are entitled to one break of 20 minutes if you work more than six hours a day. That means on a 12 hour shift, you would be legally entitled to one rest break of 20 minutes. This would be your statutory entitlement for the whole day.

There’s no legal guidance on how long you need to work before you get a break. However, the break must be given to you during your shift and not at the beginning or end of it.

Most companies will give you more than one break on a 12 hour shift, because they recognise tired staff are not productive. To find out more about the break entitlements offered by your workplace, you should refer to your employment contract or staff handbook.

Are Breaks Paid?

There is no obligation for your break entitlement to be paid, but your employer may pay some or all lunch and tea breaks.

You should also be aware that breaks do not count towards the length of your working day. If you are calculating how many hours you have worked during a shift, you should disregard your breaks. For example, if your shift is 8am to 8pm but you get an hour for lunch you are deemed to have worked for 11 hours.

This is the case regardless of whether your breaks are paid or unpaid. Related: Lunch breaks and working hours.

Break Entitlement Overview

Thankfully, most employers recognise the value of providing adequate breaks to their workers.

Here’s a list of common shift lengths, and an overview of how long the basic break entitlements are in a shift. You might be surprised to discover that the statutory minimium is the same regardless of shift length.

Shift LengthMinimum Break Entitlement
4 hours0
5 hours0
6 hours +20 minutes
7 hours20 minutes
8 hours20 minutes
9 hours20 minutes
10 hours20 minutes
11 hours20 minutes
12 hours20 minutes

It will surprise many that there is no right to a break on a shift that is 6 hours long. The 20 minute rest rule only kicks in when shift length exceeds the 6 hour mark.

There is also no difference between entitlements for a 6.5 hour shift and a 12 hour shift. Being allocated a longer break than 20 minutes will be at the discretion of your employer.

Worker fatigue due to lack of breaks has a detrimental effect on productivity and in some environments can pose the risk of accidents. Fortunately, most workplaces will give longer than 20 minutes break per shift.

How Long Can You Work Without a Break?

If you work for more than 6 hours you must have a minimum 20 minute rest break.

This should not be at the start or end of your shift, but should be taken during your working hours. In addition to breaks taken during your working day, you should also be aware of minimum rest periods.

How Many Hours Work Before a Break is Due?

UK law on working hours and breaks does not specify when a break must be given during a shift. It states how long you have to work before a break is given in terms of shift length.

The minimum shift length to be entitled to a break is 6 hours. When the shift is longer than 6 hours, a 20 minute uninterrupted rest break is due. It must be taken during the shift, and cannot be given at the start or the end.

Regulations around breaks and rest periods can be confusing – find out how long you can work without a break in our easy to understand guide.

The rules on breaks for young workers are different. Our guide on the law on breaks, rest periods and working hours for 16 & 17 year olds will explain the rules for young workers. This age group would not be allowed to work a 12 hour shift. The longest allowable shift is 8 hours.

Minimum Rest Period Law

Whilst it’s important to understand what rest you are entitled to during a work day, you also are entitled to minimum rest periods between your shifts.

Rest period entitlements between shifts:-

  • Adult workers are entitled to an uninterrupted 11 hour rest period between each shift. So if you finish work at 9pm, you should not start work before 8am the following day.
  • Adult workers should also get one uninterrupted 24 hour period off per week, or 48 uninterrupted hours off each fortnight.

If you are not getting a break of at least 11 hours between your shifts for some reason, your employer must make sure you get “compensatory rest breaks”.

This means your employer needs to make sure you get some break time at a later point.

The ACAS website has more information on rest breaks.

Breaks on Zero Hour Contracts

Workers on zero hour contracts have the same statutory entitlements as other employees. This includes the right to breaks and rest periods between shifts.

Our guide on rights for workers on zero hour contracts has more information.

Break Entitlements for Workers Under 18

For young workers, under the age of 18, the rules are different. Young workers are entitled to a rest break of 30 minutes for every 4 and a half hours they work.

There is also no legal requirement to pay you for your break nor for it to count towards the length of your working day. Young workers are also entitled to a 12 hour uninterrupted rest period between each shift as well as two days off each week – which cannot be averaged over two weeks.

PSV & HGV Drivers

Another exception to the Working Time Directive and rights to breaks is the case of PSV and HGV drivers.

Their rights to breaks come under the Road Transport (Working Time) Regulations and the Tachograph regulations. They tend to be more generous and need to take into account issues of fatigue.

Breaks for lorry drivers are covered by the Road Transport Working Time Regulations.

Other light goods vehicle drivers and minibus drivers are covered by the Working Time Directive. However, their entitlements are a little more vague.

The law says they must get ‘adequate rest’ in order that fatigue does not cause them to injure themselves or injure others or cause an accident.

For more information about shift work read our article on Night Shift Workers. It has an overview of break and rest period entitlements.

If You Don’t Think You Are Getting Enough Breaks

If you don’t think your breaks are adequate, it is worth checking your contract of employment or staff handbook.

Your entitlement to breaks and rest periods may be stated in these documents. It is always worth double checking what your workplace’s policy is, in case you are entitled to more than is being offered.

If You Aren’t Getting Statutory Minimum Break Entitlements

If you are not being offered the minimum 20 minute break during your shift, or a proper rest period between shifts, you should raise the issue with your employer in the first instance.

The section on the ACAS website regards rights to rest breaks clearly states legal entitlements. Should your conversation be unsuccessful, contact ACAS for advice.

If You Miss a Break

If you miss a break, or don’t get a proper rest period because of staff issues or shift changes your employer should ensure you get a break at another time.

This is called “compensatory rest”, and the break which is given later must be of the same length and type as the missed break. This is called an “equivalent period”.

Further Reading

Shift Break FAQ’s

Can you work a 12 hour shift without a break?

On a 12 hour shift you must have a break to comply with the law. The minimum break you are entitled to is 20 minutes.

How many hours work before a break?

Once you have worked a 6 hour shift you are entitled to a 20 minute break. The break does not have to be paid, and the employer is only obligated to give you one break per shift.

Are breaks paid?

There’s no legal obligation for your employer to give you paid breaks. However, do check your contract of employment, as some workplaces will offer some paid break times.

2 thoughts on “How Many Breaks in a 12 hour Shift? Legal Requirements & Entitlements

  1. Elena says:

    Not a lawyer – just sharing experience.
    When I worked in a care home, the breaks during the night shifts were paid, even though you are NOT on call during your break, Yes, you cannot leave the premises but you are free from calls during the break. Check the gov website: even if you are not busy, just being available and on call qualifies as working time.
    Currently I work live in and am disputing the DAHA as I am expected to work from 9 pm to 9 am (live-in waking night) but paid 10 hours because there is “downtime”. I think this goes against the law as I am available, on call at all times, it is impossible to have the statutory break of 20 minutes,

  2. iain de'ath says:

    I work 12 hour shifts on nights in a small care home with 1 other colleague. We are not allowed to leave the home and are on call for 12 hours, so we never get a proper break. Our employers only pay us for 11hours. Is this legal? We have to work 12hours.

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