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Can I Leave the Premises on my Lunch Break?

By: Jeff Durham - Updated: 6 Nov 2019 | comments*Discuss
 
Work Break Lunch Break Working Time

Q.I work with children anything up to nine and half hours a day and get given one half hour break unpaid whilst the children are sleeping. I appreciate the children still need looking after, but if my employer does not pay me for my breaks can she then prevent me from leaving the premises during my half hour break?

(Miss Joanna Walley, 23 September 2008)

A.

The Working Time Regulations stipulate that if you are over 18, you are entitled to a 20 minute rest break where your daily working time is more than 6 hours per day and, under normal circumstances, under the legislation you are absolutely entitled to take that rest break wherever you want to take it which includes leaving the premises. If you are under 18, you're entitled to a 30 minute break whenever you work a shift that is at least 4 and a half hours of continuous work and, once again, you can take that break away from the premises.

However, in this instance, where complications arise is that there are a number of exceptions to the regulations when it comes to leaving the premises.

With regards to your own specific issue, one of the exceptions to the Working Time Regulations when it comes to rest breaks stipulates that the rules apply differently if “there’s an emergency or risk of an accident”. Therefore, your employer could legitimately argue that in spite of the children being asleep, there needs to be a member of staff on the premises in the event that an emergency or accident was to occur.

However, as you’re not being paid for your lunch break, you could then legitimately counter that argument by saying that if you’re unable to leave the premises then, in effect, that therefore means that you're still on ‘work time’ and that even if they still give you the 20 minute break (which is required by law), then you have every right to ask them to pay you for it.

Basically, there are two solutions. Either the employer needs to provide an additional staff member to cover for you whilst you go on your unpaid lunch break and that will mean you can leave the premises if you so choose. Or, alternatively, if they are not prepared to do this, then you have the right to be paid for the time you are keeping an eye on the children at lunchtime, in spite of the fact that you are having your lunch at the same time.

Should your employer not agree to either of these solutions, then your next step would be to seek advice which might also result in you having to take them to an Employment Tribunal to force them to pay you for the time you need to remain on the premises. One final point, however, is that your employer is only obliged to give you a 20 minute break (whether paid or unpaid) not the 30 minutes you’re currently getting, unless you are under 18 where they must give you 30 minutes. And, with you saying you work “up to 9 and a half hours”, should there be any days where you work for less than 6 hours, your legal entitlement may not be the same.

ACAS run an advice helpline and will be able to advise you further.

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I work 12 hour shifts in a long term care facility. The company started docking our time 30 min for lunch breaks, but we were able to leave the facility, even though most of us didn't leave. Starting yesterday, we were told that we can't leave the facility on lunch breaks anymore. Is it legal for them to continue docking us if we can't leave the facility now?
Nurse73 - 6-Nov-19 @ 4:01 PM
Would this also apply to those working with vulnerable adults, those with dementia for example?
Flake - 30-Oct-19 @ 11:42 AM
Currently working inthe food industries where the majority of shifts are in a busy dining room and some others I’m attached cafes.When allocated to the cafe you are a lone worker from9-230 or 730-1600, unable to leave the site due to cash registers and stock being in place and not allowed to lock up temporarily as cafe has to be seen to be open the advertised hours. I questioned when breaks were taken (as I’m a smoker and would be happy to get out even just for five mins) and was toldthat the usual girls just took there breaks on site if/ when it was quiet. That means not leaving the building at all during this time period, if this is the case shouldn’t these breaks be paid??
Need a break - 8-May-19 @ 11:02 PM
I work at a large leisure centre, and on weekend shifts there is nobody of an equivalent or higher role to me to cover my breaks. I am not allowed to leave the site, and if called/summoned during my "lunch break" (Which is not pre-determined), I have to answer. I brought this up with my employer, and they said that it was company policy to have an unpaid 30 minute break on any shifts longer than 6 hours. They argued that I should be able to make up my half hour break in 'periods of downtime', which to me, is at odds with the idea of an unpaid break. Do I have any legal standing if I were to demand to be able to take my break in one go, or if not, to be paid without any deductions for my entire shift?
Manager - 30-Jan-19 @ 9:22 AM
I work upstairs in a care home as a domestic my employer says I have got to have my half hour break down stairs is that legal I've always had it upstairs
Lexi - 13-Dec-18 @ 4:13 PM
I work in health care for a big company I care for a gentleman who requires 2 staff 24..7...so in twos we work from 9.am until 11pm then sleep on the premises on ca to attend unti 7am then continue that morning till 9.30am 16and a half hours awake and 8 sleeping. Twice a week or8 times a m o nth which is often 3 shifts ler week .during those hours we get no breaks officially and can't just leave the premises are we entitled to please .
Jo - 22-Oct-18 @ 8:28 AM
I’ve worked straight nights for along time. We aren’t allowed to leave the building because they say it’s a safety issue. But we let people out at other times during the night and no one says anything. As well if we don’t have a lunch we don’t have any access to actual food or drinks anymore. So I think it’s unfair that smokers can go outside and we non smokers can’t in a separate smoke free area. Please contact HR at 613-968-6701 and extension 280
Dano - 10-Oct-18 @ 7:06 AM
I work an 10 hour day, I am given a 30 minute paid in the morning and a 30 minute break in the afternoon. Am I alowed to leave the premises during my unpaid break in the morning? Many thanks.
NHS emolyee - 23-Aug-18 @ 12:40 PM
As a truck driver i often take my break in my cab whilst my trailer is being unloaded, often grabbing a quick nap, but now my employer is forcing us to hand our keys in and go wait in the canteen, meaning i cant get a nap, as they are restricting my activities during my unpaid break, am i entitled to ask for my breaks to now be paid?
Roaming master - 8-May-18 @ 12:39 PM
We're I work we are not aloud to clock out but they do dock the 30 minutes from your paycheck for your lunch time. But we are told that we are not aloud to leave the building and we cannot go to our vehicles. How is this even fair?
Confused - 4-May-18 @ 7:32 PM
My employers have issued a brief stating that we are no longer entitled to take our tea breaks outside, and that we have to take them in the company canteen in order to protect the company image, is this allowed or do i have the right to take my tea break outdoors if i choose?
Furry_phil - 3-May-18 @ 5:18 PM
If I am locked in a building at night do my brakes have to be paid as I can not leave my place of work
Bouncer - 18-Apr-18 @ 8:15 AM
Can an employer lock an employee in a building over night and then refuse to let them out for their unpaid brake wherethe day shift collugues who work and the firm are allowed to leave for ttheir brakes.
Jme8985 - 16-Apr-18 @ 1:54 PM
Hi, I didn't get a break and I work in a fullers managed pub. Can I take that time off my shift and just leave early?
Adzrobinz - 14-Apr-18 @ 7:01 PM
Kathi - Your Question:
I work for the state of Montana at the Dept of Transportation. My shift is M-F 4 pm to 12:30 am. The majority of employees are gone by 6 pm. There is a huge parking lot but it is NOT lit up well. We have parked in yellow zones after our 8 pm dinner break so we don't have to walk far in the dark. Our boss has threatened to have our cars towed. This area is out of city limits. Can he legally have us towed?

Our Response:
Unfortunately, we can only answer UK-based workplace questions (we are a UK site with knowledge only of UK workplace law).
WorkplaceSafetyAdvice - 13-Apr-18 @ 10:48 AM
I work for the state of Montana at the Dept of Transportation. My shift is M-F 4 pm to 12:30 am. The majority of employees are gone by 6 pm. There is a huge parking lot but it is NOT lit up well. We have parked in yellow zones after our 8 pm dinner break so we don't have to walk far in the dark. Our boss has threatened to have our cars towed. This area is out of city limits. Can he legally have us towed?
Kathi - 12-Apr-18 @ 2:58 AM
Hi, My work in trying to make me sit in a 3 seater cab of a truck and have my 1/2 hour lunch break. Whilst the truck has three men in the cab. Can they do this ? The cab alone is filthy, I would have to use the toilet at the closet supermarket. And also need to wash there. Movement is severely restricted. You have no access to a kettle for hot water or any other electricals.
Fighter76 - 11-Apr-18 @ 7:12 AM
I work as a nurse on duty. The rest of the staff (not nursing) leave the building for thier lunch but I am not allowed to. If another nurse were to relieve me & vice versa I would not get a day off. What can I do? Nobody is paid for their break time.
S - 4-Apr-18 @ 12:41 PM
My employer has asked us to sign a hand written letter, telling us that we are no longer allowed to leave the premises on our unpaid 30 minute lunch, can they do this legally?
Meech - 20-Mar-18 @ 3:42 PM
overit - Your Question:
I work in an office and we are told that on our paid 15 minute breaks that we are not allowed to leave in our car without clocking out but other employees including management are allowed to WALK a mile around the block during their breaks. How is this legal?

Our Response:
You would have to refer to your employees handbook regarding this matter.
WorkplaceSafetyAdvice - 16-Mar-18 @ 11:59 AM
I work in an office and we are told that on our paid 15 minute breaks that we are not allowed to leave in our car without clocking out but other employees including management are allowed to WALK a mile around the block during their breaks.How is this legal?
overit - 15-Mar-18 @ 6:40 PM
Hi, I am just wondering if an issue that has arisen during a meal break between a colleague and my father a sack able offence?
ASKING4PA - 27-Feb-18 @ 2:03 PM
I work construction and was sent home for 3 days for leaving the site on my lunch witch is not paid is this legal I'm working 12 hour shifts 6 pm to 6 am
Possum - 20-Feb-18 @ 6:13 PM
I work in education and I am a duty first aider. We recently had an issue when I needed to leave my place of work as I had no lunch. While I was out on my lunch break no one could get hold of another first aider. I was told by the head of Health and Safety that if I am on first aid that I CANNOT leave site (even if I have to buy lunch) when I argued that I was not paid for my lunch break so therefore can do what I chose with it they argued back that because I am paid extra to be a first aider they can tell me not to go off site on those days. Or the other choice was to leave being a first aider and lose money? Is this correct? Can they pay me more then take away my lunch break?
jayden1233 - 9-Feb-18 @ 11:40 AM
I am entitled to 30 mins unpaid break and 2 x15 min paid. However generally I am in charge and am not allowed to leave the premises or ignore calls for help. Therefore I do not get my breaks so should I be paid? Also my shift finishes at the same time as the nxt shift starts so inevitably I have to stay for free to do the handover again should I be paid?
Rights - 26-Jan-18 @ 12:59 PM
My work place (an office) is one side of the road and the staff canteen and other offices are the other side of the road. My employers want to stop us crossing a road (not really a busy road) during our lunch breaks to go to the canteen. They want us to walk further away to the crossing which is on a dangerous corner. Can they do this?
Paul - 12-Jan-18 @ 1:27 PM
I drive a mini bus and I get a half hour unpaid break everyday. The break is half way through a shift, so no issues there. However the break has to be taken on the road with the vehicle and this is always in a different location, so I technically cannot leave the vehicle for to long as parking is always an issue. My question is as the break is unpaid should I not be able to do whatever I like in this time, which includes leaving the vehicle unattended. Technically I would be liable if the vehicle got a parking ticket as I parked it, but again if I'm not working for the company at that time.
Buster - 23-Nov-17 @ 7:10 PM
I work in fashion retail doing 9 and a half hour shifts! On days where I am the only manager instore, am I allowed to leave the premises to smoke?
Ruby14 - 23-Oct-17 @ 2:45 PM
I’m a night care assistant I’m not paid a break but all other night staff are this only applies to new staff but I’m not allowed to leave the building and I have to come off my break in an emergency and am expected to work for free is this legal or do they have to pay me and should I be aloud to leave the premises if I am not paid my break as I don’t know if there a special circumstances if you are a care assistant that you are obligated to stay on site on a unpaidbreak and have to work in an emergency even on your break
Jay - 6-Oct-17 @ 12:23 AM
My dads employer is now saying he is not allowed to Leave the building during his break whilst he is clocked out are they allowed to do this
Ap - 28-Sep-17 @ 5:59 PM
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