Do You Get Paid for Lunch Breaks in the UK?

Workers up and down the country are entitled to rest breaks, which is dependent on how long they work. Many workers are encouraged to take these rest breaks as their lunch breaks, however workers are not entitled to paid lunch breaks. 

This blog post will guide you through your employees’ rights to rest breaks at work and will allow you to have a clear understanding of the laws and regulations in the UK regarding rest breaks.

What is the legal requirement for lunch breaks?

The legal requirement for lunch breaks is that every employee is legally entitled to a 20 minute break when an employee’s daily working hours exceed 6 hours (exceptions apply for certain workers). The reasons for why rest breaks exist are because they allow staff to recover from the first half of their shift and it gives them time to rechange for the second half of their working day. 

Lunch breaks are a legal requirement, although it is not a legal requirement for employers to pay their employees during a lunch break.

What are the Working Time Regulations 1998?

The Working Time Regulations 1998 means that employers must have minimum rest breaks – the length is dependent on how many hours you work daily. Workers are entitled to a lunch break, although employers do not have to pay their employees during their lunch breaks. There are three different types of rest breaks at work, they are: 

Rest breaks at work 

If they work more than 6 hours a day, employees are entitled to one uninterrupted 20 minute rest break. It can be taken as either a lunch or a tea break. 

Daily rest 

Employees are entitled to 11 hours of a rest break between each shift. For example, if an employee finishes work at 8pm, they should not be required to work until 7am the next day. 

Weekly Rest 

Employees are either entitled to a weekly 24 hour break from work or a fortnightly break of 48 hours from work. 

Workers can of course be given more rest periods, but these rest requirements are the minimum that the employer has to offer.

Can an employee tell their employer when they want to take their lunch break?

Unfortunately, employees cannot tell their employer when they are taking their lunch break – that is up for their employer to decide. However, a lunch break can’t be scheduled for the beginning or the end of their day.

Lunch breaks at work typically occur in the middle of the day and should be taken away from the area that they work.

Are employees paid for lunch breaks?

Unless stipulated in their employment contract, rest breaks are not paid and employees are not entitled to smoking breaks either.

Who is entitled to lunch breaks?

All employees are entitled to lunch breaks and a rest break during work. However, there may be certain occasions or special circumstances where employees are entitled to more or less breaks than other employees.

Pregnant employees, young workers under 18 and employees working in conditions that put health and safety at risk

If your employee is pregnant, the employer should carry out a risk assessment to work out whether they would need more rest breaks each working day.

For young workers under 18, typically they are required to work fewer hours a day, so they aren’t often required to take a rest break. However, for every 4 and a half hours that they work, young workers are required to take a rest break. Additionally, those under 18 are usually entitled to more days off every week. 

If your employees work in hazardous conditions where tiredness or feeling overworked could result in injury, the employer may consider giving the employee more time off to ensure that the workplace’s health and safety is not at risk.

Are there any exceptions to the mandatory rest breaks?

There are certain careers where these mandatory requirements do not apply. These include those working in the emergency services or police and armed forces. Mandatory rest breaks cannot be implemented when regular breaks at work aren’t feasible or practical.

Another reason that there may be an exception to the rest break requirements is when someone is a director at a company, or the work is not measured. This can often include those who work at sea, in the air or in road transport. However, their rest breaks will usually be negotiated differently.

Compensatory rest breaks

Compensatory rest breaks are periods of rest that are given to employees as compensation for not being able to take their regular breaks or for working extended hours beyond their normal working schedule.


Compensatory rest breaks can be taken by:


  • Shift Workers: Employees who work in shifts, especially those covering nights or rotating schedules, where standard breaks might be missed due to the nature of the work.
  • Emergency Services Personnel: Workers in essential services like healthcare, fire services, and police, where unexpected or extended work hours may prevent regular breaks.
  • Transportation Workers: Including drivers, pilots, and crew members in rail, air, and road transport, who may have non-standard working hours and strict regulations regarding rest.
  • On-call Employees: Those who may be called to work during periods typically designated for rest or outside of their regular work schedule.
  • Employees in Continuous Operations: Workers in industries that operate around the clock, such as manufacturing, utilities, or IT support, where the workflow cannot be interrupted for regular breaks.

Flexible Schedule Workers: Employees with non-traditional work arrangements or those working remotely who may miss scheduled breaks due to work demands but are eligible for compensatory rest later.

How can staff enforce their rights?

Staff are legally required to have rest breaks, and if an employer does not allow them to, the employer may face legal repercussions.

Why do employees need rest breaks?

If employees do not get enough rest, it can lead to negative consequences. They may develop physical or mental health issues due to the stress faced at work and the lack of rest. This lack of rest could lead to mistakes or accidents happening at work, which could have devastating results. 

A lack of rest could lead to reputational damage or financial losses to the organisation, and if an employee chooses to take their grievances to court, it could result in legal action. This could result in enforcement by the health and safety executive (HSE) or the local authority.

How can an employee take action if they think that they’re not receiving the right amount of rest?

If an employee doesn’t think that they’re receiving the right amount of rest that they’re entitled to, they can start by discussing the matter with their employer. If that doesn’t solve the problem, another step they then can take is to make a formal complaint to their employer. 

If the issue still isn’t resolved, then the employee still can take certain steps to ensure that they will be able to take the right amount of rest. These steps include making a claim to the employment tribunal or reporting it to their local authority or to the health and safety executive.

What happens to an employer if they fail to give their employees the right amount of rest breaks?

If an employer fails to give their employees the correct amount of rest breaks for their profession and the amount of hours that they work, there could be serious consequences for the employer. 

This could include a settlement that the employer will have to pay for their employee or a damaged reputation.


While paid lunch breaks and rest breaks are not mandatory, an unpaid rest break is. Rest breaks are important because they allow for your workers to rest and recuperate in the middle of their working day. 

While some workers cannot have rest breaks due to their profession, for others, employers must be more lenient to their requests for more rest breaks. 

If you’re an employee and do not have the correct amount of rest breaks for the number of hours that you work, it’s crucial that you raise a grievance with your employer to receive the correct amount of rest.  

If your business needs to understand the number of hours that your employees work, Payroll Solutions can help. Our payroll software can help manage your staff’s salaries and expenses, while our HR software will help to ensure that your staff all have the appropriate amount of rest breaks.