Rules on rest

Rules about rest periods can easily get overlooked, particularly when there is an unexpected rush of customers or because a colleague has called in sick so work needs to be covered.

However, employers would do well to remember that there are some strict obligations that they should comply with:

A worker’s average working time must not exceed 48 hours per week.

“Working time” means all the periods when the worker is either carrying out their duties or is at the employer’s disposal (including overtime). The average amount of working time is usually calculated over a rolling 17 week reference period. A worker may opt-out of this maximum limit by entering into a suitable written agreement, providing such agreement is freely entered into by the worker. However, they can decide to opt back in again at any time if they change their mind and it is unlawful for an employer to penalise a worker if they do not agree to opt-out.

Where a worker works more than 6 hours, they are entitled to take an uninterrupted 20 minute rest break away from their workstation.

Ideally, the break should be towards the middle of the worker’s shift so as to protect their health and safety. The break does not have to be paid.

A worker is entitled to (a) daily rest of 11 uninterrupted hours in every 24 hour period, plus (b) weekly rest of 24 uninterrupted hours in every 7 day period or, alternatively, one uninterrupted 48 hour rest period in every 14 day period.

Note that the weekly rest period should not usually include any part of the daily rest period.

The above are the normal rules on rest but, of course, there are exceptions, for example:

  • There can be differences in the usual rules for those who work shifts. By way of example, someone who works a split shift or who changes shift pattern, may not be entitled to the weekly or daily rest periods, although alternative rest should usually be given instead.
  • There is greater protection for workers who are under 18 years old so more generous breaks will need to be given to them.
  • There are normally additional obligations in respect of those who work at night (which are usually those who work at least 3 hours during the period from 11pm to 6am).

Some of the usual rules can be varied, within reason, by entering into a collective agreement with a trade union.

In addition to the above rules, which are set out in the Working Time Regulations 1998, an employer also has a general duty of care to protect the health, safety and wellbeing of all their workers whilst they are at work. This duty includes ensuring that they do not have an overly burdensome work schedule and that there is adequate provision for them having sufficient rest from their work duties.

Breach of the laws in this area can lead to a number of possible consequences. Employment Tribunals have the power to award compensation to a worker in many instances. In some situations, it can even lead to criminal proceedings by the Health and Safety Executive or a local authority, which can result in a significant fine. For these reasons, it is important to take note of and always comply with the rules on rest.

This guide is for general information and interest only and should not be relied upon as providing specific legal advice.  If you require any further information about the issues raised in this article please contact the author or call 0207 404 0606 and ask to speak to your usual Goodman Derrick contact.