Are Lunch Breaks Included in Working Hours?

We often need to total up our working hours for a range of reasons such as to see what benefits we might be entitled to, working tax credits, or simply to allow us to budget accordingly.

You may also be a little concerned that you are averaging more than 48 hours a week which is against the working regulations.  If you are confused about lunch breaks and if they are included in your working hours then the quick answer is no, they aren’t.

Everyone that works over 6 hours is entitled to at least a 20 minute rest break. That means that the break entitlement for an 8 hour shift is the same length as the rest period for a 12 hour shift.

However, there is no law saying breaks must be paid. Many employers do offer payment for some or all breaks. This is at their discretion, and they are not obliged to offer this perk to staff.


How to Work Out Working Hours

To accurately calculate your working hours, you have to average out your hours. This is usually done over 17 weeks.

As long as your average weekly hours do not exceed 48, your working hours comply with the working time directive. If you are going over this total then it is important to talk to your boss about either reducing your hours, or opting out of the 48 hour week regulation.

There are different rules on working hours for under 18’s. Young workers are not permitted to work more than 40 hours per week so they do not average them out.

Some industries have a longer referencing period, such as trainee doctors who average their hours out over 26 weeks.


Understanding Working Hours

To accurately calculate your average working hours, you need to understand what you can include in calculations of your shift lengths.

What Counts as Working Hours

You can include:

  • Any time you are at your employer’s disposal.
  • Carrying out work-related duties.
  • Attending work-related training.
  • Business Lunches.
  • Travel related work (not usually the journeys to and from work though).
  • Paid and unpaid overtime.
  • Any time you are on call and physically at the place of work for this.
  • Travelling if your workplace has no fixed location.

What Does Not Count as Working Hours

You cannot include:

  • Being on call away from the workplace.
  • Rest breaks eg lunch breaks, even if you have chosen to work through them.
  • Travel times outwith your regular hours.
  • Paid or unpaid holiday.
  • Travelling to and from work at a fixed location.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that if you have a second job then you must still adhere to working regulations. This includes not exceeding 48 hours unless you are happy to sign an agreement opting out of it.


Do Employees Have The Right to a Lunch Break?

Every employee has the right to a lunch break if they work more than 6 hours. This break has to be a minimum of 20 minutes but many employers offer a longer break.

Lunch breaks for under 18s are also mandatory when they work for more than 4 hours 30 minutes. They should be given at least a 30 minute lunch break. Again, some companies may offer longer than this.

Our in depth guide has more information on lunch break entitlements.


Are Lunch Breaks Paid?

Whilst everyone is entitled to a lunch break if they work a certain amount of hours per day, this doesn’t mean the same entitlement applies to paid lunches.

Most companies do not pay for lunch breaks as this is personal time to recharge where no work duties are being performed. There are no requirements for employers to pay their staff for breaks.


Working Hours & Lunch Breaks Key Facts

All the information regarding working hours can cause confusion. With that in mind, we’ve put together some handy key facts.

  • You cannot work for more than 48 hours per week which is usually averaged out over 17 weeks. The only way to increase your hours beyond the 48 is to sign an “opt-out” agreement.
  • Under 18s can not work over 40 hours per week and these cannot be averaged out.
  • Companies are under no obligation to pay for lunch breaks and most don’t so they do not count towards your working week hours.
  • Over 18s are entitled to a 20-minute rest period when they have worked for 6 hours.
  • Under 18s are entitled to a 30-minute break when they have worked for 4 hours 30 minutes.

FAQs

Does a 40 hour work week include lunch?

Lunch breaks are not included within a 40 hour work week in most cases as these breaks are largely unpaid. You may be one of the lucky few who get a paid lunch but this isn’t the norm and shouldn’t be expected. Your working hours are time you spend carrying out work duties.

How many hours can I work without a lunch break?

Adults over 18 can work for 6 hours before they are entitled to a 20 minute break and under 18s can work for 4 hours 30 minutes before being allowed a 30 minute rest period.

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