How Many Hours Between Shifts? Legal Rest Time Regulations UK

In the UK, employers are obliged by law to ensure their workers have adequate daily rest periods between shifts.

The Working Time Directive (regulation 10) says employees must have a minimum period of 11 hours between shifts. However, there are exceptions to the regulations, for example during shift pattern changeovers.

The right to daily rest is just one of 3 provisions in UK law to ensure workers are getting adequate breaks.

Adequate rest is vital to employee health and wellbeing. In some work settings fatigued workers can pose a health and safety risk due to the increased likelihood of workplace accidents.

Our guide looks at the different entitlements to rest breaks, and time off work.

Daily Rest – Legal Time Between Shifts

Getting adequate rest between shifts is essential to wellbeing and overall physical health, as well as compliance with the law.

The right to daily rest is laid out in regulation 10 of the Working Time Regulations. The law says that workers “are entitled to a rest period of not less than eleven consecutive hours in each 24-hour period during which he works for his employer”

These should be consecutive hours to allow for an adequate break between work days. Young workers should get 12 consecutive hours between shifts. 

Source: Regulation 10 – Working Time Regulations.

Exceptions to the Working Time Directive Daily Rest Period

Although employers are legally required to fulfil the working time regulations, there are exceptions. There are some scenarios, and certain industries and jobs which are excluded from this particular legislation.

Employees who work in the following areas do not have to follow WTR rules on daily rest:-

  • Hospitals and care homes.
  • Agriculture
  • Retail
  • Post and newspaper deliveries.
  • Hotels
  • Catering
  • The armed forces.
  • Emergency services
  • Air or road transport.

The above industries are exempt from all 3 types of compulsory rest breaks. They may, however, have their own set of rules to follow. Young workers also have different rest break regulations to abide by.

The right to daily rest does not apply under some special circumstances including:-

  • Where business needs mean continuity of service is required.
  • Shift workers changing from one shift pattern to another.

Why Rest Periods & Breaks Are Important

Our body and mind naturally need plenty of regular rest periods.  Failure to have adequate breaks can result in mistakes and possible accidents occurring.

Employers have a duty of care towards their employees which includes making sure they rest. Failing to meet the Working Time Regulations on Breaks could result in a breach of contract and could invalidate business insurance policies in some circumstances. Therefore, regular breaks protect both employees and employers.

Lack of adequate rest can negatively affect both physical and mental health. Tiredness is linked closely to low mood which will affect work performance.

Some jobs have a high level of responsibility where mistakes can cause serious injury or even death. Exhaustion can cause a lack of concentration and focus which can lead to poor performance in the workplace.

From an employer’s point of view, there can be financial and legal implications when staff become too tired to work. It can lead to the company being sued for gross negligence or other complaints. This will adversely affect the business’s reputation which could result in a financial loss.

The Working Time Directive & Breaks

The Working Time Regulations of 1998 set the directive for working time rules. This legislation helps to protect everyone in the workplace.

Whether you work from home or the office, you are entitled to the same rest breaks. The regulations have 3 specific types of rest breaks.

  1. Daily rest time between shifts.
  2. Rest periods during the day at work.
  3. Weekly rest periods.

There is also a weekly limit of 48 hours of work for employers to follow. Workers can only choose to opt out of the Working Time Directive rules limit by signing an agreement.

Lets take a look at the regulations on weekly rest periods, and breaks during working shifts.

Weekly Rest

Another entitlement as set out by the Working Time Regulations is an employee’s right to weekly rest. Again, this helps protect everyone in the workplace.

The legislation states that everyone is entitled to weekly rest which can vary depending on how many  days are worked.

In a 7 day period, employees should receive at least 24 hours of recuperation time. In a 14 day period, workers are entitled to 48 hours of rest. This can be taken as a block of 48 hours together or two separate 24 hour breaks.

Rest Breaks at Work

Employees have the right to breaks in the workplace during their working day too. How much they get, if any, will depend on how long they are working.

The legal break requirement for anyone who is 18 or over is a 20 minute uninterrupted break during their day at work. However, you can work up to 6 hours without being entitled to a break. Only workers who have worked longer than 6 hours are entitled to a rest break.

This break should be taken at a “reasonable time”. This means not right at the beginning or end of the employee’s shift. Some businesses may offer more than this break entitlement, for example, an hour for lunch.

However, there’s no legal obligation for lunch breaks to be paid, and they also don’t count towards your total working hours.

Compensatory Rest if You Don’t Get Your Entitlement

If you fail to get your proper rest entitlement you should be offered compensatory rest by your employer.

That means you should be offered your rest later, or take rest in a different way to protect your health and safety. We are all well aware that the working day doesn’t always go to plan. Sometimes breaks are missed when something unexpected crops up.

For more information on your rights if you don’t get your entitlement – see ACAS making up for missed breaks.

How Many Hours Between Shifts For Young Workers?

Young workers under the age of 18 have a different set of rules to follow when it comes to rest breaks. They should get longer rest periods between shifts and their working hours limit will be different too.

Young workers are entitled to:-

  • When a shift is more than 4 hours and 30 minutes long, they should receive a 30 minute break.
  • There should be 12 hours between each shift.
  • They should receive 2 rest days every 7 days.

These rules must be implemented as those under 18 need more respite than adults. 12 hours between their working days ensure they are well rested and able to work to a normal standard.

If Your Employer is Not Providing Your Break & Rest Entitlements

Not being given your break and rest entitlements is a breach of employment laws. It should be taken seriously by all those involved.

Once you are sure your employer is not providing the correct rest periods, you can challenge them. You can try raising the issue informally first. This means simply having a conversation with your boss, and pointing out your concerns. Or you can opt for a more formal approach.

This involves raising a grievance through the official channels. This entails writing a letter outlining your concerns and what you feel your entitlements are. You can quote the Working Time Regulations for this.

Should this not change the status quo then you can take the matter to a higher level. You can seek advice from your union, if applicable, or escalate the matter to an employment tribunal.

It is always best to start with an informal approach. There aren’t many employers out there who wish to be penalised for breaking the law. With this in mind, an informal chat will often be sufficient for getting your correct rest breaks.


How many days can you work without a day off?

Workers in the UK should receive a full day off for every 7 days they work. For every 14 days, they should get a 48 hours break.

Do you get paid for rest breaks?

You are not entitled to be paid for your rest breaks and these will often be unpaid. Rest breaks do not count towards your total hours worked.

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