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Can I Leave the Premises on my Lunch Break?

By: Jeff Durham - Updated: 18 Apr 2018 | 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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Bouncer- Your Question:
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

Our Response:
You would have to read the terms and conditions of your employment contract to see what your employer states. There may be a reason why you cannot leave the premises, which may be outlined in your contract. If your employer is not paying you for your break and you are not allowed to leave the premises, then you need to take the advice in this article and discuss this with your employer directly.
WorkplaceSafetyAdvice - 19-Apr-18 @ 11:14 AM
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
Jme8985 - Your Question:
Can an employer lock an employee in a building over night and then refuse to let them out for their unpaid brake where the day shift collugues who work and the firm are allowed to leave for ttheir brakes.

Our Response:
You would have to look at the terms and conditions of your employment contract regarding whether you are allowed to leave the building on your work break. It may be written into the day-shift employees' contracts that they are allowed to leave the building. If you are in doubt, speak to your employer directly.
WorkplaceSafetyAdvice - 17-Apr-18 @ 9:32 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
Adzrobinz - Your Question:
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?

Our Response:
You would have to read the terms and conditions of your employment contract to see what your workbreak entitlements are. You would not be able to leave early without first discussing the matter with your employer directly.
WorkplaceSafetyAdvice - 16-Apr-18 @ 1:43 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
Fighter76 - Your Question:
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.

Our Response:
Unless it is stated in the terms and condition of your employment contract, you should be able to have your lunch where you choose to. If you’ve tried solving this issue informally by talking to your manager but you’re not satisfied, you can make a formal grievance complaint in writing, please see link here.
WorkplaceSafetyAdvice - 12-Apr-18 @ 12:30 PM
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
AngelI- Your Question:
My contract states I work 35.hrs a week over 5 days. We work 8.5 hrs per day with a 1hr unpaid lunch. As we work with volunteers there has to be a paid member of staff on premises at all all times.as I am constantly the only paid employeek on site and end up working 8.5 hrs without a break. This often brings my weekly hours to 42.5 hrs. Bit I only get paid for 35hrs. Can I claim for extra hours as employers say they don't pay overtime.

Our Response:
You can insist that you take your break. Your employer has a legal obligation to provide this. You can see more via the link here.
WorkplaceSafetyAdvice - 5-Apr-18 @ 1:53 PM
S - Your Question:
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.

Our Response:
You would have to read the terms and conditions of your employment contract first of all, to see why you are the only person not to have a lunch break where you can leave the building. If the terms of your contract do not give a reason, then you may wish to speak with your employer directly in order to try to solve the problem informally in the first instance. If you try solving the problem or concern informally by talking to your employer or manager but you’re not satisfied, you can make a formal grievance complaint in writing, please see link here .
WorkplaceSafetyAdvice - 5-Apr-18 @ 10:56 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 contract states I work 35.hrs a week over 5 days. We work 8.5 hrs per day with a 1hr unpaid lunch. As we work with volunteers there has to be a paid member of staff on premises at all all times.as I am constantly the only paid employeek on site and end up working 8.5 hrs without a break.This often brings my weekly hours to 42.5 hrs. Bit I only get paid for 35hrs.Can I claim for extra hours as employers say they don't pay overtime.
AngelI - 1-Apr-18 @ 10:13 AM
Meech - Your Question:
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?

Our Response:
Your employer can. However, you can challenge it and refuse to sign if the letter conflicts with the terms and conditions of your employment contract. Both the employer and employee need to agree to any contract changes, please see link here .
WorkplaceSafetyAdvice - 22-Mar-18 @ 3:41 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
Roo1980 - Your Question:
Hi , I work night shift in retail and my employer is changing our contracts and one of the things they are changing is that they will not be paying our 45 min break but they still say we have to remain in the building ,can they do this. As the night shift originally got paid breaks because of keeping us in , day shift didn’t get paid as they were allowed out for breaks.

Our Response:
Usually, the employer and employee both need to agree to any contract changes made. Pease see link here, which will tell you what your employer can or cannot do. Likewise, employees can disagree with a change to their contracts. As this change involves you losing money from your wages, you may wish to give Acas a call in order to explore your options further.
WorkplaceSafetyAdvice - 13-Mar-18 @ 2:23 PM
Hi , I work night shift in retail and my employer is changing our contracts and one of the things they are changing is that they will not be paying our 45 min break but they still say we have to remain in the building ,can they do this . As the night shift originally got paid breaks because of keeping us in , day shift didn’t get paid as they were allowed out for breaks .
Roo1980 - 12-Mar-18 @ 8:25 AM
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
Possum - Your Question:
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

Our Response:
Much depends upon the terms and conditions of your contract. If your contract specifies a particular reason why you should not leave the site in work or break time, then you would have to adhere to it.
WorkplaceSafetyAdvice - 22-Feb-18 @ 12:51 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
Ruby14 - Your Question:
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?

Our Response:
Much depends upon your contract and what it says. As a rule, smoking breaks aren't a legal entitlement, however, 'rest breaks' are - and by law you are allowed a 20 minute break for every six hours you work - what you do in that break is usually up to you. This may include leaving the premises to smoke. You can see more about smoking entitlement via the Worksmart link here . Hopefully this will fully answer your question.
WorkplaceSafetyAdvice - 24-Oct-17 @ 10:14 AM
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
Jay - Your Question:
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 unpaid break and have to work in an emergency even on your break

Our Response:
If you agreed and signed the contract, then in principle you have to stick to the terms. By agreeing to the terms your employer has put forward, you have agreed to opt out of the usual European Working Time Directive, please see link here . However, if you are on an unpaid break, then you should be able to spend that break however you choose, which includes leaving the building. Also, if you are called on an emergency, your employer should allow you to return to your break once the emergency is over. Many employers will attempt to try to push the boundaries of the rules. But by reading the terms of your contract, and speaking to ACAS to find out your rights, you should be able to resolve this issue with your employer informally.
WorkplaceSafetyAdvice - 13-Oct-17 @ 10:07 AM
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