Lunch Break Entitlement Guide

Lunch breaks allow the opportunity to refuel ready for the next part of your shift. Your lunch break entitlement will usually be set out in your contract of employment. However, your contract can’t remove your right to breaks. There are also rules about how rest periods should be taken during your working day.

If you aren’t sure you are receiving correct lunch breaks or if your breaks should be paid, we’ll explain your employee rights.

How Much Lunch Break are you Entitled to?

How much lunch break you are entitled to will come down to the hours you work per day. There are also different rules on break entitlements for under 18s.

When your shift is more than 6 hours long you are entitled to a 20 minute break. This should be uninterrupted and must be taken during your shift, not at the beginning or end. Some companies may allow longer lunch breaks. This will be at the discretion of your employer.

If your contract doesn’t say how breaks will be taken then don’t be afraid to ask. Adequate breaks are important to maintain a productive and safe workplace.

Some jobs may offer more than one break – particularly if the job is very physical, monotonous or tiring. This protects the health and safety of employees who may need to take more than the average breaks.

Rules on Breaks Between Shifts

Other rest period regulations state that:

  • Companies must allow workers to get a minimum of 11 hours of rest from one work day to the next. So, if an employee clocks off at 10 pm on a Monday, they should not return to work until 9 am the following day.
  • There should be 1 rest day allocated to each employee per week as a minimum. After 2 weeks a worker is entitled to 2 rest days.

Rest entitlements should be stated in your contract and you might get more rest days. For example, a full weekend off.

Can You Leave the Premises During Lunch Breaks?

Employees are entitled to take their lunch break away from the work environment in most cases. They should not be contacted during their break unless it’s absolutely critical. 

It’s also important that the break is taken at a fair time which will act as a chance to refuel. Your boss shouldn’t be asking you to take your break as soon as you arrive or just before you leave. This is not compliant with the law on how breaks must be taken.

Breaks & Contractual Rights

Employers should ensure everyone working over 6 hours a day gets their lunch break entitlement at an appropriate hour. This could mean having staff in to provide cover so everyone gets breaks.

Often, an employee’s contract offers a better deal than the working regulations. For example, you may get a coffee break, a longer lunch, and cigarette breaks.

Many companies see the benefits of allowing longer breaks as it has positive effects on staff morale. Better staff morale means work productivity will be at its best.

Are You Entitled to Paid Lunch Breaks?

Entitlement to paid lunch breaks will depend purely on your contract and is at your employers discretion. There is nothing in the law to guide employers about paid lunch breaks.

There is no provision in UK employment law about breaks being paid. Also, lunch breaks do not count towards your working hours.

Rights if You Miss a Break

In a perfect world, employees will get their lunch break at a set time every day. But in the real world, this isn’t always doable.

When an employee misses a break, they are entitled to a compensatory rest break later in the day. This should be scheduled as soon after the missed break as possible. It should be the same length as their normal break.

Lunch Break Entitlements for Under 18s

There are different rules on breaks for workers under 18 which must be adhered to by employers. Young workers are entitled to a 30 minute break if they work for more than 4.5 hours. They are also entitled to 12 hours between each shift and 48 hours of rest per working week.

Young workers are also entitled to compensatory rest and gain. Whether or not their lunch break is paid or unpaid will come down to the employee’s contract of employment.

Workers under the age of 18 are heavily protected by regulations to help protect their wellbeing. In most situations, they should not be asked to work between the hours of 10 pm and 6 am.

If a young person feels they are not receiving their lunch break entitlements or are working too many hours then they should speak to HR or Citizen’s Advice.

Do I Have to Take a Lunch Break?

Perhaps you are happy to work through and finish up a little earlier. You may also feel your workload is too immense for a break some days.

It is very important you take your the breaks you’re entitled to. Legally, it is expected that your employer will enforce this.

Regularly missing your lunch breaks can harm your overall health and wellbeing. Everyone needs time to refuel, gather their thoughts, and rest during the day. We aren’t robots and missed breaks can add more stress to our job.

Employers will not often waiver this break entitlement as they will be aware of the Working Time Regulations and the risks involved with breaching them. In some jobs, it can be a health and safety risk if staff aren’t getting their downtime.

Having said this, it may be acceptable on odd days for you to ask to work through your lunch so that you can leave a bit earlier.

Maybe you have a school event for your child, or a doctor’s appointment and would rather work your lunch hour so it is paid, meaning you aren’t losing out financially. Again, employers don’t have to agree to this but sometimes a bit of flexibility each way can benefit everyone as long as it isn’t a regular arrangement.

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