With email notifications popping up everywhere and customers expecting a quick response to their questions on social media, it’s easy to forget to have a break (let alone a Kit Kat). But it’s important to make sure your staff get the rest periods they’re entitled to.

What breaks must I give staff in a normal working day?
As a general rule, anyone whose working period is longer than 6 hours is entitled to at least one 20-minute break during that period. So in effect, you can’t ask someone to work for more than 6 hours continuously without giving them a 20-minute break.

This break has to be uninterrupted. Employers can’t give staff two 10-minute breaks instead of one 20-minute break.

For workers aged between 16 and 18, it’s one uninterrupted 30-minute break if their working period is longer than 4.5 hours.

Do I have to pay my staff for breaks?
No. Many employers do pay their staff for breaks, but there’s no obligation to. So if your employee’s working day is 9am-5pm (8 hours) and they get a 1 hour break for lunch, you only have to pay them for 7 hours.

Top tip: When writing contracts for your staff, make sure you specify whether breaks are paid or unpaid.

Is time spent travelling to and from work counted in a “working period”?
For employees who have a fixed workplace, time spent travel to and from work is not included in their working period (though once they’ve arrived at work, any travel required for their job is counted). However, workers who have no fixed place of work can count their travelling time as working time.

Example: Tom is 24 years old and works in an office. His journey to work takes him 30 mins, and his working day runs from 9am-5pm. Tom’s working period is therefore 8 hours (his travel to and from his fixed workplace isn’t included). He must therefore be given at least one 20-minute break during this working period.

Tom’s employer can decide when his break is taken, so long as it doesn’t result in him working for longer than 6 hours continuously.

Are there any other limits on staff working times?
Yes. In general a worker has the following rights:

  • Not to work for longer than 48 hours per week (40 hours for 16-18 year olds)
  • To have 11 consecutive hours of rest in any 24-hour period
  • To have one day off per week, or two consecutive days off every fortnight (16-18 year olds are entitled to two days off per week)

There are slightly different (and more complicated) rules for night workers, shift workers and people working in security and healthcare. It’s best to contact your accountant or call ACAS for guidance on these.

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