Working hours and rest breaks

Much that they’d like to, your employers can’t make you work all hours. Make sure you’re not working too hard and that you’re getting the rest breaks you’re legally entitled to.

Girl asleep at desk

A little desk kip is fine...as long as you don't dribble.

How many hours can I work?

In most jobs, you can’t be forced to work more than 48 hours a week on average – including overtime.

If you’re under 18, you can’t work more than eight hours a day or 40 hours a week.

You can volunteer to work longer if you agree this in writing with your employer. You can subsequently change your mind, but you must give your employer at least seven days notice. If you’re under 18, you’re not allowed to ‘opt out’ of these restrictions.

What counts as time at work?

Time at work does not include:

  • Statutory holiday leave, sick leave, or maternity, paternity, adoption or parental leave
  • Lunch breaks (unless you have to work through them)
  • Your journey to and from work (unless you have to travel in the course of your job)
  • Being on call away from your work place
  • Voluntarily working overtime

What rest breaks should I get?

If you’re aged 18 or over, and your working day is at least six hours, you usually have the right to an uninterrupted rest break of at least 20 minutes. You’re also entitled to an 11-hour rest between working days, and an uninterrupted 24 hours without work every week.

If you’re under 18, you should have a 30-minute rest break if you work more than 4.5 hours. You’re also entitled to a daily rest of 12 hours between working shifts, and 48 hours uninterrupted without work every week.

Exceptions to these rules

There are a few jobs where the law about rest breaks and working hours is applied differently – these include couriers, commercial drivers, members of the army and police and security guards.

Further help

If your employer doesn’t follow these rules on working hours and rest breaks, they’re breaking the law. For help and advice, contact your trade union (if you belong to one), the Pay and Work Rights Helpline on 0800 917 2368, or your local Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB).

If the situation is unbearable, you could make a complaint using your company’s grievance procedure. If that does not lead to a resolution, you can take it further and go to an employment tribunal.

Next Steps

  • Acas offers free advice about everything to do with employment law. 0300 123 1100
  • Looking for a mentor to help boost your knowledge and skills? Find a youth zone close to you.
  • Reveal your skills with Define Me and find the right words to tell employers.
  • Download Motimator - an app that helps you get the career you want - by giving you a gentle kick up the ass each day when motivation is running low.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

By Tom Green

Updated on 29-Sep-2015