How Many Breaks in a 12 hour Shift? What is my Entitlement?

Wondering how many breaks you are entitled to during a 12 hour shift? We’ll look at your rights to breaks during 12 hour stints at work, as well as other shift lengths. The law on breaks during work shifts is governed by the Working Time Directive.

The Working Time Directive Law & Breaks

This law applies to most adult workers, including those who work part time, or are employed by an agency.

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. However, some jobs have different rules around breaks and workers are entitled to longer rest periods.

Legal Break Entitlement on 12 Hour Shifts

If you are given a lunch break of 20 minutes or more, that counts as your full entitlement for that day. 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 your entitlement, you should refer to your employment contract or staff handbook.

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

Break Entitlements For Other Shift Lengths

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

However, here’s a list of common shift lengths, and an overview of how long the basic break entitlements are in a shift.

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. 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.

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.

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.

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