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Employee Entitlements: Understanding Rest Breaks

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We all need a break from time to time. Working all day is not healthy, no matter how busy you are.

Business owners and managers need to know what time they can allow, both for legal reasons and to protect everyone's well-being. There are different minimum clearances for different people and companies.

Are you giving your employees the right amount of break time? And have you considered giving them more?

Employees' right to rest breaks

The minimum rest period for employees over 18 years of age is 20 minutes. This applies if they work more than 6 hours per day, and it must be a real break that is not interrupted - whether it is a short break or a lunch break. It doesn't necessarily have to be a paid break; this depends entirely on the employment contract.

You can decide at what point employees take their rest break during working hours, provided the following conditions are met:

  • The break must be taken in a single, uninterrupted pass somewhere in the middle of the shift (not at the beginning or end).
  • Employees have the right to spend their rest break away from their desk or workplace (outside the room in which they do their work).

If you specify that the employee must return to work before these 20 minutes are up, this will not be considered a rest break. Remember that no employee has the right to take smoke breaks or be paid for their rest break unless their contract states otherwise.

Other types of rest breaks

Employees are also entitled to a daily rest break. They are entitled to a minimum rest period of 11 hours between shifts - for example, if they finish work at 8pm, they are not allowed to return to work earlier than 7am the next morning.

There is also a right to weekly rest periods that you must grant to all employees. According to the law, they are entitled to 24 hours of uninterrupted rest per week or 48 hours of uninterrupted rest per fortnight. These are fundamental rights for employees in the UK and employers have a legal obligation to provide them.

Young or teenage workers

Slightly different rules for rest breaks apply to young or adolescent employees. A young employee is anyone who has passed school age but is not yet 18 years old. If a young person works more than 4.5 hours, they are entitled to a minimum rest break of 30 minutes.

In addition, a young worker must be given 12 hours of uninterrupted rest in a 24-hour period and be released from work for 48 hours per week. These claims can only be excluded or changed in exceptional cases.

Employees who are not entitled to rest breaks

There are employees who are excluded from the right to the three general types of rest breaks (short breaks, lunch breaks and time off). These are employees who work in one of the following areas:

  • In functions in which they can freely choose their working hours (e.g. a managing director) or in which working hours are not measured.
  • The armed forces or emergency services (including the police) when faced with an exceptional situation.
  • Workers who work in sea, air or road transport ("mobile workers") - special regulations often apply to these people, which allow them different rest periods. Mobile workers who are not subject to specific regulations generally have the right to regular rest periods to protect their health and safety (and that of the general public).

You should know that it is a legal requirement to provide employees with these rest breaks. If you do not do this, employees will have legitimate grounds to complain in writing and could even take the matter to an employment tribunal.

Rethink break times

Many companies offer more than the required minimum breaks to keep their employees happy and productive. For example, lunch breaks are usually much better than half hours. But when you factor in the time spent leaving your desk, waiting for the elevator, going to the sandwich shop, and getting back to the office, that half hour is quickly wasted.

You are therefore free to set the breaks in your company as you wish, as long as you adhere to the legally required minimum breaks.

All further experiments lead down an interesting path, towards 6-hour days, 4-day weeks and all kinds of unconventional work processes. Instead of worrying about the minimum break time you can allow your employees, you might want to completely rethink how you organize your breaks.

The better the well-being, the higher the productivity. So why not try allowing more generous break times and see what happens? You could even suggest that your employees take a break for as long as they want - as long as the work gets done.

Offering adequate rest breaks not only fulfills legal obligations but also promotes employee well-being and productivity. Consider rethinking break times for happier, more efficient teams. IceHrm can help streamline break management.

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