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Can I Leave the Premises on my Lunch Break?

By: Jeff Durham - Updated: 14 Feb 2021 | 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)


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 in a care home i work 14 hour shifts I am give 2x 30 mins unpaid break, but I'm am not aloud to leave to floor to go to staff room or to a shop we and on the unit for 14 and not aloud to leave until we finish.
Tracey - 14-Feb-21 @ 4:31 PM
when did this law change and who changed it ?what happened to the factories acts ? I remember this act it said workers were entitled toa 15 minute tea break thena 30 minute lunch break after 5 hours of work then 10 minute tea break and if you worked over 9 hours you were entitled to another meal break.
n/a - 22-Oct-20 @ 3:21 PM
I work 12.5 hours days or nights. I do not get paid for my hour break i work at a hospital and I have been told I’m not allowed to leave my ward for my break. Where do I stand with this I am a hca
Nursebyday - 16-Oct-20 @ 1:22 PM
If I was on a un paid 1 hour dinner break from work and had a altercationwithin that hour,with someone then who reported you to your place of work. Would I be in the wronge or would the person reporting me say I was working at the time of the altercation?
Gaw3n - 6-Sep-20 @ 3:19 PM
I start a job 1st September in a care home, they informed me I get paid breaks but I cannot leave the premises or the grounds. Have they got the right to do this?
Vic - 22-Aug-20 @ 10:28 AM
My manager says that I cannot leave my work to buy food on a break due to Covid 19.
Tiglio - 5-Aug-20 @ 6:26 AM
I have been told I can't leave my work premises or buy food off the food van because of covid 19, can my company do this, thank you
MikeyP - 9-Jul-20 @ 8:13 AM
I have been told I can't leave my work premises or buy food off the food van because of covid 19, can my company do this, thank you
Ernie - 23-Jun-20 @ 10:52 AM
I work 12 hr shifts in a supported dementia scheme, my breaks are always interrupted and many times you never get your proper break as you are either answering phones or going to see the service users or they come up to you ,my boss keeps telling me that break is unofficial as I get paid for the 12 hr shift but you are on your feet most of the day and they say you have to leave your break , there is always other staff in, some days you don't get a proper break what is my rights
Dutchy - 18-Jun-20 @ 8:25 PM
I work 8 hour a night on my job . I get paid for 7.5 hour . and I am not able to leave what should I do for lunch. Is it right that I cannot leave for lunch.
Stone - 20-Feb-20 @ 10:05 AM
I have now been told I cannot leave the premises on my unpaid lunch hour unless there is cover which more often than not there isn't, is this legal?. Cover is only sometimes provided for an hour and half at the end of a shift for hand over.
Christie - 11-Jan-20 @ 12:00 PM
I have worked in retail for over a year now now and due to working a 9hr shift we are allowed an hour and a half break (unpaid). Now since I have started I have always taken my break 2 x half hours and 2 x 15 mins. As of yesterday I have been told that I can only take 3 half hours but no explanation as to why. I feel like my manager is simply being picky as I have never been spoken to about it before. Where can I go with this? And how can I prove that it's not company policy to take my breaks in 3 half hours? Thanks
Fay - 9-Jan-20 @ 11:26 AM
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
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