Know your rights on working hours

11 June 2010

One in four workers puts their health at risk by regularly working all day without taking breaks, warns The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP).

According to the Society, poor working habits - such as not taking sufficient breaks, sitting in the same position for extended periods and going to work when stressed or ill - pose serious health risks and therefore cause both employees and employers greater problems further down the line.

The UK wide survey showed that over a third of staff regularly work through their lunch break, while almost a quarter take no lunch break at all.

The reasons given for non-stop working ranged from having too much to do to having too few staff to cover the workload.

Workers are in danger of increasing their risk of chronic musculoskeletal disorders - such as ongoing back pain - as well as obesity, cancer, depression and heart disease through poor working practices, the society continues.

From 10 June, the CSP is starting a 'Fit for Work' campaign, as part of its wider move for health campaign, which encourages people to adopt a healthier lifestyle.

Sickness absence and sickness presence costs the UK economy over £35 billion each year, through reduced performance and productivity, sick pay and benefits, according to the CSP.

In 2009 the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence estimated a cost of £28.3 billion to UK employers due to work related stress.

Phil Gray, chief executive of the CSP, says: "Overworking and not taking breaks is actually costing employers and their staff. Employees pay the price with their health and there is a cost to employers in reduced productivity and performance."

Your rights

According to Directgov, most workers have the right to take breaks, but whether or not you are paid for them depends on the terms of your employment contract. Typically, people working in industries such as transport have special rules about their breaks.

There are three different types of break:

  • Rest breaks - lunch breaks, tea breaks and other short breaks during the day.
  • Daily rest - the break between finishing one day's work and starting the next (for most people overnight).
  • Weekly rest - whole days when you don't come into work (for many people this is the weekend).

For the majority of people the second and third type of break will not be paid for unless you remain 'on call'. The first type is usually paid but doesn't have to be if your contract doesn't stipulate.

As an adult worker (over 18) you will normally have the right to a 20-minute rest break if you are expected to work more than six hours at a stretch.

A lunch or coffee break could count as your rest break, but there is no statutory right to smoking breaks.

You have the right to at least 11 hours between working days. In addition, you have a right to either an uninterrupted 24 hours clear of work each week or, an uninterrupted 48 hours clear each fortnight. For information about your workers' rights check the Directgov website. 

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