Whether your job is physically exhausting or mentally taxing, everyone needs to be able to rest during their working day. Workers are also entitled to days off and rest periods between shifts under the Working Time Directive.
How long you get for your break often comes down to your contract. Some jobs offer longer breaks than others. An employer has to let you have at least one break during a 6 hour shift. But how long can you work without a break? When is it legal to work 6 hours without a break?
Let’s dive in and look at the law on breaks, rest periods, and days off.
Minimum Break Entitlements
Employees who work for longer than 6 hours are entitled to a minimum rest period of 20 minutes.
Many employers offer a longer break than this but this is at their discretion. Working for longer than 6 hours without a break is contrary to the Working Time Regulations. It will also impact negatively on worker health and productivity.
How Many Hours Can You Work Without a Break?
There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to how many hours you can work without a break during a shift.
The only conditions that must be met are:
- You need to have a 20 minute break when you work a shift longer than 6 hours. The break may be longer than 20 minutes if your employer offers more than the statutory minimum.
- You cannot be asked to take your break at the beginning or end of your shift. It has to be during your work hours.
- Your break should be uninterrupted rather than broken into smaller breaks.
Your break is your time to do as you please and should be uninterrupted.
You may work for a company where your break is always at the same time or it may be a work environment where it differs depending on the day and what is going on.
Can I Work 6 Hours Without a Break?
This question can cause confusion for employees trying to understand how long you can work without a break.
The wording of the law is as follows:-
“A worker is entitled to an uninterrupted break of 20 minutes when daily working time is more than six hours. It should be a break in working time and should not be taken either at the start, or at the end, of a working day.” Source: HSE – What breaks am i entitled to?
The key phrase is “more than six hours”. This means that you can work 6 hours without a break, but if your shift is longer than 6 hours, a 20 minute break is a legal entitlement under the working time regulations.
Health & Safety Considerations
Your role will often determine if you are allocated the legal minimum 20 minute break, or if health and safety implications mean you need longer or more regular breaks.
Workers in an outdoor environment might need regular breaks during extreme weather. Heat stroke can be very serious and working in the heat all day takes a lot out of the human body.
There may be times when provisions need to be made for regular access to fresh drinking water and shade. The same principle goes for other extreme weather including freezing temperatures and torrential downpours.
Of course, sometimes different individuals can cope with fewer breaks than others. Someone with a chronic illness or who is pregnant may require more breaks and employers should treat each individual with their overall wellbeing at the forefront of their minds.
There may also be some jobs that don’t allow eating and drinking in the workplace. Again, employees should have regular opportunities to drink, rest, and eat.
The Working Time Directive & Breaks
The Working Time Directive says all staff working 6 hours or more in the workplace must be given a break. However, the break entitlement is the same regardless of shift length.
That means break entitlements on an 8 hour shift are the same as those on a 12 hour shift.
Thankfully, many companies recognise the need for well rested staff, and offer longer breaks. Make sure you are clear about your break entitlement by reading your contract carefully.
Rest Periods Between Shifts
Regulations state that workers are entitled to a minimum of 11 hours between shifts.
That means if you finish work at 6 pm then you should not start until 5am the following morning at the earliest. There are some exceptions to this rule, such as for those workers who change shift patterns. Some occupations are also exempt from the rules.
See Also:How many hours between shifts?
Workers have the right to weekly or fortnightly rest days. These will either be an uninterrupted 24 hours minimum per week or an uninterrupted 48 hours per fortnight.
Your time off and weekend break entitlements should all be laid out clearly within your contract of employment.
48 Hour Working Week Rules
All employees should keep their working week to under 48 hours as per the working time regulations unless:
- You agree to opt out of these and therefore can work over this limit. This agreement needs to be agreed and signed by both parties and you can choose to cancel this agreement at a later date.
- The job you do is not covered by the 48 hour rule such as self employed jobs and private household servants.
How Many Days in a Row Can You Work Without a Break?
Are you worried you are doing too many days with no rest days? This question can be tricky to find a definitive answer on.
Working time regulations state that the maximum length that can pass before rest days are required is a fortnight.
This fortnight, however, includes the 48 hours rest you are owed. Theoretically, you shouldn’t be working over 12 days without 2 rest days to follow. If your rest days are split weekly instead then you will get a rest day after 6 days.
Again, how your rest days are distributed will come down to your contract terms but it is important you are getting your full entitlement. This subject is hard to understand and employees lose can out because of conflicting advice.
This article at realemployementlaw.co.uk unpicks the regulations and looks at some relevant case law.
Young Workers & Breaks
The rules around legal break requirements and under 18s are different from the adult workforce. They are entitled to longer breaks and shorted shift lenghts to help protect their health and safety.
Their working hours may vary between local authorities but the rest periods remain the same throughout the UK. They are required to have a 30 minute break when they work over 4.5 hours per day. They should also receive 12 hours of rest between shifts unless their shifts are split into shorter shifts.
Do I Have to Take a Break at Work?
There are some cases when a break at work won’t be required. For example if you work less than 6 hours.
However, anyone that works over 6 hours is legally obligated to take their break and it should be enforced by the employer.
Are Breaks Paid?
There are no regulations to say that employers must pay their staff for their breaks. This will be at your employers discretion. Many workplaces do offer some paid breaks.
Many employers do not pay their staff for their breaks and therefore their working hours don’t include breaks.
You should always get a 20 minute break when you work for more than 6 hours. However, if your shift is 6 hours or less there is no break entitlement.
Generally speaking, there should be a minimum of 11 hours between one shift ending and the next beginning. If your shifts are split into shorter sessions then this rule won’t necessarily apply.
A break should last 20 minutes as a bare minimum when you work for 6 hours or more. Whether or not you get over this will depend on what is stipulated within your contract or even may come down to your needs.