Expert advice

My employer won’t allow me a comfort break during a shift: what are my legal rights?

Marc Cornock explains the law covering breaks

Marc Cornock explains the law covering breaks

Under the Working Time Regulations 1998 , UK workers are entitled to a minimum 20-minute break when working for six hours or more .

This break should:

  • Be uninterrupted.
  • Be away from your workstation / working area.
  • Take place during working time.
  • Not be taken at the start or end of the working day.

No legal

Marc Cornock explains the law covering breaks

Picture: iStock

Under the Working Time Regulations 1998, UK workers are entitled to a minimum 20-minute break when working for six hours or more.

This break should:

  • Be uninterrupted.
  • Be away from your workstation / working area.
  • Take place during working time.
  • Not be taken at the start or end of the working day.

No legal requirement to provide a paid break

But while most NHS employers tend to allow more time than the statutory 20-minute minimum, breaks aren’t always paid. While the minimum 20-minute break is a legal right, payment for breaks isn’t – so this will depend on your employment contract.

Let’s take an example. A nurse is contracted to work 35 hours a week in a clinic that runs Monday to Friday.

The nurse starts at 9am each day and their employer allows a 30-minute lunch break. As this break is not paid, the nurse would work 9am to 4.30pm each day, to fulfil their contracted hours and to cover the half-hour lunch break.

But what about an additional morning or afternoon break? The nurse’s lunch break would count as the statutory break that is required for working six or more hours, so legally no further rest breaks need to be provided by the employer.

What counts as a rest break?

In fact, anything that is an uninterrupted period of 20 minutes or more is a rest break. Therefore a lunch break, tea break or a comfort break could meet the statutory requirement as long as it lasts for 20 minutes or more.

Employers are entitled to say when the break can be taken, provided that it is taken away from the normal working area and is not at the beginning or end of a shift – for example, starting 20 minutes later or finishing 20 minutes early – and that no other breaks are taken during the shift.

If you are called back to your work before the 20 minutes has elapsed, it would not count as your rest break.

In addition, having two 10-minute breaks does not count, as the statutory requirement is for an uninterrupted period of at least 20 minutes.


Further information


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