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Rest breaks at work - overview

This advice applies to Scotland

You’ll probably be entitled to rest breaks during your working day, as well as daily and weekly rest breaks. Most workers are entitled to rest breaks but some jobs mean you don’t have an automatic legal right to breaks.

Read more about workers who aren’t entitled to rest breaks at GOV.UK.

You might not be paid for your rest breaks - your employment contract will say whether you are.

Compensatory rest breaks

A compensatory rest break means that you can take the break at a later time. It should be taken within a reasonable time from when you missed the break and should last as long as a specific rest break would have lasted.

You might be entitled to compensatory rest breaks if:

  • you’re a shift worker
  • you work in a job where there has to be cover at all times, like a hospital
  • you’re a security guard

Read more about who’s entitled to compensatory rest breaks at GOV.UK.

Rest breaks if you’re over 18

If you’re aged 18 or over and work for more than 6 hours a day, you’re entitled to:

  • an uninterrupted rest break of at least 20 minutes, taken during the day rather than at the beginning or end (eg tea or lunch break)
  • 11 hours rest in a row between each working day
  • 1 rest day in each working week - this could be averaged out over 2 weeks, so you'd be entitled to 2 days off in a fortnight

Your contract might say you’re entitled to more than this, for example you might get an hour for a lunch break.

Rest breaks if you’re over school leaving age but under 18

If you’re over school leaving age but under 18, you can’t usually work for more than 8 hours per day or 40 hours per week. You’re usually entitled to:

  • a 30 minute rest break if you work for more than 4 hours and 30 minutes in a day
  • 12 hours rest between each working day
  • 2 rest days per week

There are limits on the hours you can work at night if you’re over school leaving age but under 18.

You can’t usually work between:

  • 10pm and 6am - if your contract says you have to work work after 10pm, you must finish by 11pm and not start again until 7am
  • midnight-4am

There are some exceptions, for example for people who work in hospitals, agriculture, retail work, hotels, catering, bakeries, post/newspaper deliveries or people who work in connection with cultural, artistic, sporting or advertising activities.

If your employer won't let you take a rest break

Your employer legally has to let you take the rest breaks you're entitled to. If they don’t, speak to them to see if you can resolve the issue.

If this doesn’t work, you should raise a written grievance. Ask your HR person if you’re not sure how to do this. You should also get advice from your union representative - if you have one.

If you still need to take matters further, you could make a claim to an employment tribunal. You can’t do this without going through Acas early conciliation first. There's a 3 month time limit for going through conciliation. This starts from the date your employer didn't allow you rest breaks.

Contact your nearest Citizens Advice for specialist help.

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