Guide

Hours, rest breaks and the working week

Rest breaks

Your workers are entitled to regular breaks in the working day. Workers aged 18 or over should be offered a minimum 20-minute break for every shift lasting more than six hours. This can be unpaid unless the contract of employment provides for the break to be paid.

You can decide when your workers take their break, but it mustn't be at the beginning or end of a shift. You must also allow your workers any breaks they need as a result of any health condition or disability.

Working Time Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2016.

Rest periods between working days

Your workers are entitled to regular rest periods between working days - in addition to any holiday entitlement. See know how much holiday to give your staff.

Workers aged 18 and over should have a minimum 11 hours' rest between each working day, and shouldn't be forced to work more than six days in every seven, or 12 days in every 14.

Exceptions can be made for:

  • exceptionally busy periods, based on objective grounds eg Christmas for retail businesses may be a valid reason
  • emergencies
  • people working away from home

In these cases, rest periods can be compensated for and taken later. However, compensatory rest should be given immediately after the work period where possible.

When organising rest periods you need also to consider the maximum average working week which is normally 48 hours.

Young workers

Workers aged 16 and 17 should take at least 30 minutes' break if they work more than four and a half hours. This can be unpaid unless the contract of employment provides for the break to be paid. If they also work for another employer, the time worked in total must be considered when calculating entitlement to breaks.

Only in exceptional circumstances can young workers miss their breaks - and then they should receive compensatory rest within three weeks.

Young workers should have a minimum 12 hours' rest between working days, they must also have two days off every week, normally two consecutive days. Only in exceptional circumstances can these rules be changed.

Read more on employing children and young people.