Do you know how many breaks your workers are entitled to? It may seem like common sense, but entitlements vary depending on age and the time of day your employees are working. If you haven’t thought about the different needs and legal obligations you have when employing night workers, for example, then you may be breaking the law.
What rest breaks are workers entitled to?
There are three types of break. Workers are usually entitled to have one uninterrupted 20 minute rest break during their working day, if they work more than 6 hours. This break does not have to be paid, as this is your decision as an employer. Whether or not it is paid must be specified in any employment contracts.
A daily rest is the entitlement workers have to 11 hours rest between working days. So if they finish at 8pm, they shouldn’t start work again until 7am at the earliest the next day.
Workers also have the right to a weekly rest, therefore an uninterrupted 24 hours without any work each week or an uninterrupted 48 hours without any work each fortnight.
These legal requirements apply to those over 18, and there are differences when employing younger or night workers.
Young workers, those under 18, are entitled to longer rest breaks. They are required to have a 30 minute rest break if they work more than 4.5 hours (one continuous break if possible), with a daily rest of 12 hours and a weekly rest of 48 hours.
There can be exemptions to these rules on break times, but only in temporary exceptional circumstances. Any rest that the young worker has missed has to be taken by them within the following three weeks.
Night workers are classified as those who regularly work at least 3 hours during
11pm to 6am. You can agree, in writing, between employer and worker, to a different ‘night period’ however legally it must be 7 hours long and include midnight to 5am.
If you do employ night workers, you must offer them a free health assessment written by a qualified health professional, before they start work, with repeat assessments offered regularly. Workers don’t have to accept, but you must keep records for two years of the health assessments and the dates when assessments were offered.
If you are unsure about whether the worker is fit for night work, a follow-up examination by a health professional is required, and you must offer suitable other work where possible if a worker has health problems that a doctor says are related to night work.
Night workers must not work more than an average of 8 hours in a 24-hour period. This average is usually calculated over 17 weeks, but it can be over a longer period of up to 52 weeks if the workers and the employer agree, with regular overtime is included in the average, but not occasional overtime.
Any night work must be subject to a risk assessment to identify special hazards and work involving mental or physical strain. If the workers deal with special hazards or mental or physical strain, they can’t work longer than 8 hours in any 24-hour period.
Remember that you must keep records of your night workers’ working hours to show they aren’t exceeding the limits, and these records must be kept for at least 2 years.
Young Night Workers
Workers aged 16 or 17 can’t work between midnight and 4am. They usually can’t work between 10pm and 6am (this can be changed to not working between 11pm and 7am, by contract) but there are exceptions if they work in certain industries, such as agriculture or hospitality.
In exceptional circumstances young workers can work at night if there’s no adult to do the work and they’re needed to either handle a sudden increase in demand or maintain the continuity of a service/production.
You, as an employer, must then give the young person a rest period of the same length as the extended shift.
When does these obligations not apply?
The contract you have with a worker may say they’re entitled to more or different rights to breaks from work. Gov.uk points out that workers engaged in more monotonous duties have have to take more breaks to ensure their health and safety isn’t at risk. Conversely, domestic workers in a private house (eg a cleaner or au pair) aren’t entitled to rest breaks for health and safety reasons.
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