Most managers know that staff are entitled to time off work, but understanding exactly what the rules are can get confusing. With that in mind, here are the basics around rest periods for your employees.

Importance of rest

As well being a legal entitlement, making sure staff have the right rest breaks is vital for your business in other ways. Staff who work long periods without stopping become less productive, and also more prone to health problems, increasing absence rates. Regular breaks improve performance, both in terms of productivity levels and also by enhancing workers’ capacity for creativity and problem-solving.

Mid-shift rest breaks

Workers are entitled to a minimum rest break of 20 minutes if they work a shift of longer than six hours. For young workers (under 18), the compulsory break is 30 minutes in a shift of more than 4 ½ hours.

The break needs to come somewhere in the middle of the shift, rather than being tacked on to the end to allow the worker to leave earlier, although the employer can specify exactly when the break will be taken.

The worker must genuinely be free to leave their workstation without being on call in any way. For many workers this entitlement is covered by a lunch break of more than 20 minutes, however it is important you make sure your staff actually take their lunch break in order to ensure you are complying with this requirement. Encourage them to leave their desk for lunch and at least stretch their legs, and eat something.

The mid-shift rest break does not have to be paid, and you should make the issue of payment and length of breaks clear in the contract.

Daily rest

Adults are entitled to daily rest breaks of at least 11 hours between shifts (12 hours for young workers). This can vary where someone is swapping from one shift to another shift and cannot take the requisite rest in between, or where someone works split shifts (for example cleaning staff). Where this happens, the worker must get “compensatory rest”, i.e. they cannot lose out overall.

For staff who work on an on-call basis, even if they are allowed to sleep and don’t get called out during their on-call shift, this doesn’t count as daily rest if they are at the workplace and/or not allowed to leave.

Weekly rest

Adults are entitled to uninterrupted weekly rest of 24 hours, or 48 hours a fortnight, either in two 24 hour periods or one chunk of 48 hours.  For under 18’s this is 48 hours weekly.

Unlike the 48 hour maximum working week, the rest break element of the Working Time Directive isn’t something workers can opt out of. However arrangements can be varied by collective or workforce agreement, as long as there is compensatory rest. There are also a number of exceptions to the rules above, as we’ve only covered the basics, so if you are not sure how the rules apply in your business, or would like advice on managing rest breaks at work, do get in touch.