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Rules on Employee Rest

View profile for Katee Dias
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Rules about rest periods can easily get overlooked, perhaps as a result of an unexpected rush of customers or because a member of staff has called in sick. However, employers would be wise to remember that there are some strict obligations that they should be complying with.

Working Time Regulations 1998

The main obligations can be summarised as follows:

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

“Working time” means all the periods when the worker is carrying out their duties or is at the employer’s disposal (including overtime). The average amount of working time is usually calculated using a rolling 17 week reference period.

A worker may opt-out of this restriction by entering into a suitable written agreement. However, it must be freely entered into by the worker and do note that they can give notice to opt back in again if they change their mind. 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 shift so as to protect the worker’s health and safety. The break does not have to be paid.

A worker is entitled to daily rest of 11 uninterrupted hours in every 24 hour period.

A worker is entitled to 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 this rest period should not usually include any part of the daily rest period (see above).

However, do bear in mind that these rules do not necessarily apply to all, for example:

  • The rules offer greater protection and more generous breaks for workers who are under 18.
  • There are likely to be additional obligations owed to those who work at night (which is usually considered to be the period from 11pm to 6am).
  • There are some exceptions 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.
  • Some of the obligations can be varied, within reason, by entering into a collective agreement with a trade union.

Health and safety

Employers are reminded that they also have a general duty of care to protect the health and safety of all their workers whilst they are at work. This includes ensuring that they have sufficient rest from their work duties.


Breach of the rules 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 020 7404 0606 and ask for your usual Goodman Derrick contact.