July 31, 2023
As a shift worker, you’re always wondering if you’re being treated fairly or not. Specifically, you’re asking the question: how many breaks should I get in a 12-hour shift?
We provide HR Support Services, making us perfectly placed to tackle this topic. Below, you will find a guide explaining the legalities surrounding shift works and breaks, dictating exactly what you’re entitled to.
In UK law, there’s something called The Working Time Regulations 1998, which stipulates the legal break allowances for employees and workers.
This legislation outlines that, during working hours, you are entitled to a 20-minute rest break if you are working for more than 6 hours. In theory, this can be split into two 10-minute break periods or one long 20-minute one.
It’s also outlined in the legislation that there are no legal requirements for lunch breaks. Most employers will offer the 20-minute break as a lunch break, perhaps adding on an extra 10 minutes. If you suffer from a disability, you’re also entitled to request an extra rest break throughout the day.
Unfortunately, the 20-minute break rule still applies to 12-hour shifts. You are working over 6 hours, but there are no rules that stipulate an additional 20 minutes should be afforded if you work 12 hours.
It’s important to note that the majority of employers offering 12-hour shifts will provide an extra break for workers. Forcing employees to work for 6 hours at a time is highly unreasonable and can lead to burnout. We recommend reading through your contract and seeing what it says about breaks there. If the company explicitly says you’re entitled to two 20-minute breaks on a 12-hour shift, you can take them even if your manager tries to stop you.
These rules also apply to 12-hour shifts that go into night-time. There are no changes in regulations to favour night workers and give them more break entitlements.
One final thing to note about breaks and 12-hour shifts is the break entitlement between shifts. Legally, all employees are allowed 11 hours’ rest between finishing and starting work. For example, if you work an 8 am – 8 pm shift, you can’t legally be forced to come in at 7 am the next day.
The Working Time Regulations also state that rest breaks are NOT paid.
It is up to the employer to decide whether or not to pay employees for their rest time, and most will not.
Having said that, if an employment contract stipulates that you WILL be paid for breaks, you must check that this happens. Look at your timesheets and check your pay every month to ensure the employer is paying you for breaks if it’s written into your contract. If they aren’t, you can take legal action to claim unpaid hours and possibly added compensation.
As well as being entitled to 20-minute breaks if you work 6 hours during a day, there are other rules surrounding rest breaks at work.
Employers can tell workers when to take their breaks, though three conditions should be met:
- The employee is allowed to take their break away from their place of work. If you work at a desk, this will mean you can leave it and sit elsewhere during the break.
- The break is allowed to go uninterrupted – unless there are extreme circumstances. This stops employers from cutting breaks short just to get people back to work quicker.
- The break must be taken at some point during the working day that isn’t right at the start or the very end. This allows the employee some proper rest during working hours.
If you aren’t being given the legal break entitlement for a 12-hour shift, you should speak to a solicitor and discuss potential legal action. At Premier Legal, we have a range of services for employees that you may find useful. Similarly, if you’re an employer that’s unsure about rest breaks and doesn’t know how to allocate them without incurring legal trouble, contact us today. We provide HR support services for Employment Policies and Procedures that’ll help you outline break arrangements and avoid mistreating any employees