HR · 10 November 2016

What is the minimum time between shifts I have to give staff?

time
Where a shift is more than 6 hours, the minimum break time should be 20 minutes

The minimum amount of time off that should be provided to a worker is set out in the Working Time Regulations 1998, and this covers various types of time off, writes Peninsula’s Kate Palmer.

Rules on minimum annual leave are included, as are weekly rest breaks and minimum time between shifts.

The regulations cover the amount of break time a worker should have during the working day. There are different entitlements depending on how old the worker is, and the entitlements are commonly misunderstood.

Workers are entitled to a daily rest period of at least 11 consecutive hours in each 24-hour period during which they work. It is not necessary for the 11 hours to fall in the same calendar day provided that they are consecutive.

The daily rest break is 12 hours for young workers (those above school age but not yet 18), which must be continuous unless the work periods are split or of short duration.

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The situation is slightly different for shift workers when they change shift or when their activities involve periods of work split up over the day. The daily rest period does not need to be provided, and workers are exempt from the daily rest requirements provided that they are given equivalent periods of compensatory rest.

What this means is that, where the full 11-hour break was not provided when it should have been, the element that was foregone should be given at the next available opportunity.

Workers are entitled to a weekly rest period of at least 24 consecutive hours in a seven day reference period. For adult workers, the 24-hour weekly rest entitlement can, at the employer’s option, be averaged over a 14-day period by giving two rest periods of at least 24 consecutive hours or one rest period of at least 48 consecutive hours in each 14-day period.

This weekly rest period should commence immediately after a daily rest period of 11 hours unless there good business reasons for it not to.

Young workers should have two 24 hour rest periods, preferably consecutive, in each seven day reference period.

Contractual lunch breaks will differ greatly from organisation to organisation and employers are entitled to fix these as they wish provided that they do not give any less than the minimum expressed in the legislation.

The minimum time between shifts a worker should have in his working day is 20 minutes where his working hours are more than 6 hours. Note that the working hours must be more than 6 in order to attract a break. Therefore, if a worker works from 8am – 2pm, the entitlement to a statutory break is not triggered. Naturally an employer may still provide a break if they choose.

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The situation is again slightly different for younger workers – those who are above compulsory school age but not yet 18 are entitled to a minimum of 30 minutes break if their working time is more than 4.5 hours.

Although these are the minimum periods set out by law, the contract of employment can sometimes change the provisions in the Working Time Regulations, or where it is agreed with a trade union.

Children – those still within compulsory school age – have separate rules again.

There are no rules on when, during the day the break should be set for, except that, where entitled, workers must be allowed to take their break during the daily working periods as opposed to it being tagged on right at the beginning or the end of the daily working period. The worker is entitled to take the break away from their workstation.

Employees are protected against unfair dismissal and action short of dismissal for taking or attempting to take their entitlement to rest breaks or weekly rest periods.

Kate Palmer is assistant head of advisory at HR consultancy Peninsula

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Kate Palmer CIPD is the head of advisory at law firm Peninsula and is a member of its senior leadership team. She joined in 2009 having held a senior HR manager's role in another large company. With a specialist background in facilities management in the NHS, Kate offers a wealth of employment law experience. She's an expert negotiator - one notable case was with the NHS's trade unions over terms and conditions in the Agenda for Change pay system.

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