Working hours and breaks at work

The are laws to stop people being worked too hard. And there are things you can do if your employer isn't following the law. This page explains the law around breaks, time off in between shifts, and each week and annual leave and how you can take steps to put it right if your employer is not being fair.

You are entitled to breaks at work and there are laws to stop you being worked too hard. These laws apply to employees, workers, agency workers, apprentices, casual workers, seasonal workers, and those on zero hour contracts and they apply to everyone who is allowed to work in the UK.

Rest breaks 

You should get at least 20 minutes break per day if you work  for more than 6 hours. Longer shifts don’t entitle you to more breaks. You should be able to take the break without being interrupted and away from where you work (for example, away for your desk or cash register). 

The daily break should not be right at the beginning or the end of the working day, but other than that, the time of the break is up to the person engaging you to decide.

Some people you might be given extra breaks - but you are not entitled to these unless it says so in your contract.

You are not entitled to get paid for your break unless it is written into your contract that you will. 

Rest from one day to the next 

 Employees and workers are entitled to an uninterrupted rest period of 11 hours between each working day. Sometimes this is not possible for shift workers or people who work ‘split-shifts’ (often in the morning and the evening with time off in between) but the employer has a duty to ensure you get enough rest.

Days off between working weeks 

 Employees and workers should get at least one uninterrupted 24 hour period off a week, or alternatively, at least one uninterrupted 48 hour period every 2 weeks.

Maximum time at work a week

There are restrictions in place about working for more than 48 hours per week.

You may be required to work more than 48 hours in an individual week, but you should not be working for more than 48 hours per week on average over a 17 week period unless you have specifically agreed to work more hours. Any agreement to work more than 48 hours per week must be in writing.

Night work

If you regularly work for at least 3 hours between 11pm and 6am, you are a night worker. In general, night workers should not be working for more than 8 hours in every 24 hours. If your work involves special hazards or physical or mental strain, you cannot work for more than 8 hours.

If it doesn’t, you can work more than 8 hours sometimes, as long as the average calculated over 17 weeks is not more than 8 hours.

There are some exceptions to this rule, for example, it doesn't apply to caretakers, security guards or certain jobs which cannot be interrupted. Just as with daytime work, you should get a 20 minute break if you work for a period of 6 hours or more. You are entitled to spend your break during your shift away from your work station.

Under 18s

Different protections apply for workers who have reached school leaving age but have not yet turned 18.

Workers under 18 are not allowed to work for more than 8 hours or 40 hours a week. All your jobs have to be included when calculating this maximum time even if they are with different employers.

There are some exceptions to these rules, but it is much harder to change the rules for 16-17 year olds than for over 18s.

(A ‘week’ starts at midnight between Sunday and Monday.)

 Young workers should get at least 30 minutes break per day if you work continuously for more than four and a half hours. If you are juggling jobs add the hours up, if it is more than four and a half you still get a break. But, like everyone else, you don’t have a right to be paid for the break unless it says you will in your contract.

Under 18s should be getting an uninterrupted rest of 12 hours between working days.

Under 18s  should get at least 2 days off a week, and they should normally be taken in a row. However 2 days can be reduced to 36 hours if the employer has a technical or organisational reason for doing so.

Night Working - Under 18s

In general, people under 18 should not be working between 10pm and 6am or between 11pm and 7am. That means you can work up to 11pm but then you should not start work before 7am the next morning.

There are exceptions to this rule, for example, if you are working in a hospital or if you are involved in sporting or artistic activities. For more information on working at night see GOV.UK.

Children who have not yet reached school leaving age

There are greater working restrictions on children who have not yet reached school leaving age. The restrictions vary depending upon whether it is in term time or the holidays.

If you are not being given the rest you are entitled to 

Try to sort it out by talking informally to your line manager. If that doesn’t work - you could use your work’s grievance procedure. 

If that doesn’t work you could take this to an employment tribunal. Call the ACAS helpline on 0300 123 1100.

If you are seriously thinking of going to the employment tribunal, you have to use ACAS’s early conciliation service first.

August 2023

More help with working time or holiday entitlements

For more help see Working hours.We have hand-picked the best accurate information available about discrimination law in England and Wales available anywhere on the web, so that you don't have to.

About this guide

The information in this guide applies to England and Wales.

The law is complicated. We recommend you try to get advice from the sources we have suggested if at all possible.

This guide was written by Law for Life thanks to funding from the Bar Standards Board.

Law for Life would like to thank all those who provided advice and feedback on this guide and Orlando Holloway from 42BR Barristers who peer reviewed the guide.

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