Nobody wants to be that person who’s brand new to a team and starts niggling about breaks and downtime – however, all care professionals must make sure they’re getting the right amount of rest.

Care work can be very physical and emotionally challenging, so you need to take advantage of tea breaks, lunch and holidays to ensure you have the resilience and health to deliver fantastic care.

OUTT.com regularly hears from candidates who are shocked (in a good way!) to receive full PAYE benefits with flexible shifts, excellent pay rates, and proper support. That highlights that it’s well worth taking the time to recap the legal minimums.

If you’re ever worried that you aren’t getting the proper holiday entitlement or days off to recharge those batteries when you’re running on empty, check out the OUTT.com social care recruitment platform for a better way to work.

In the meantime, let’s work through the bare minimum you can expect from a social care employer.

Minimum Rest Breaks for Care Workers

Now, every organisation will have a different policy about rest breaks. Some might play it by ear and recommend taking a load off in between shifts when things are quiet.

Others put in place structured rests, usually in care facilities where it’s impossible to anticipate a slower part of the day.

Staggered rest breaks can be a great way to make sure everybody gets a break without having a mass exodus to the tea room all at once.

UK legislation states that:

  • Workers are entitled to one 20-minute rest break without interruption during a typical day of over six hours.
  • Your breaks can be taken as lunch or can be a quick tea break.
  • Rest periods don’t have to be paid for – although great social care employers will grant you at least a 20-minute recharge without docking the time from your payslip.

Many employers will expand on that, offering smaller breaks during the day and a more extended lunch break.

A lot depends on the nature of the care organisation you work for – it can be pretty tricky getting an hour away for lunch if you’re a home care worker, providing one-on-one support, for example.

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Break Periods During Night Shift Work

We hear you; a typical eight-hour office day isn’t remotely comparable to social care shifts! If you’re working nights or a longer 12-hour shift, you still have the right to a proper break.

There are three types of a break for adult social care workers:

  • First, rest breaks you take at work.
  • Then daily rest – i.e. in between shifts.
  • Finally, weekly rest, which is the amount of time off you need during the working week.

If you work somewhere that is staffed 24-hours a day, you are entitled to 11 hours of consecutive rest.

Of course, if you’re working overnight in a care home on a 12.5-hour shift, that’s cutting it fine, but it still means you get at least 11 hours away from work.

Say you can’t have 11 hours away, then you are entitled to compensatory rest breaks – as long as it all works out within the legal limits over an average week. You should be getting at least 90 hours off work during any seven days.

We’ve established that a minimum 20-minute rest is required for any work over six hours, and that same rule applies no matter what time of day (or night!) you happen to be on duty.

You’re also required to have at least one day off per week.

Legal UK Holiday Entitlements

Next up, let’s think about holidays. Whether that’s languishing on a tropical beach with a fruity cocktail or finally getting around to that garden makeover project, every care worker must get some proper time off every year.

Missing holidays can cause no end of challenges, and it’s in an employer’s best interests to ensure their staff are supported, rested, and valued.

Working flat out without ever taking a break can cause:

  • Fatigue, illness, mental health conditions, and burn out.
  • Loss of job satisfaction, commitment and drive.
  • Decreases in quality of care, professionalism and standards.
  • Resentment, with exhausted staff feeling demotivated.

There are national standards in place, applicable to all roles in any employment sector. For example, UK workers should receive at least 28 days (5.6 weeks) of paid leave every year.

That is the statutory entitlement, and anything beneath that for a full-time worker is a breach of employment law.

Employers can choose to include public holidays – although having every bank holiday off is probably a pipe dream in many care roles where patients and residents need support regardless of the date on the calendar!

Leave Periods for Part-Time Care Workers

If you work part-time, don’t worry; you still have a legal right to a minimum amount of holiday every year. Legally, anything under five days per week is considered part-time, although if your shift patterns chop and change, it tends to work on averages.

You still get the 5.6-week entitlement, although your number of working days included in 5.6 weeks will be lower.

Employers usually adopt a straightforward pro-rata system – so they’ll offer you the same as a full-time worker, reduced by the relevant number of hours.

For example:

  • Lisa works 40 hours per week, full-time, eight hours per day. She is entitled to 5.6 weeks or 28 days of holiday – and might split that into half days or take off, say, two weeks at a time.
  • Stefan works 16 hours a week, part-time, also eight hours a day. He still gets that 5.6 weeks off, but it works out as 89.6 hours or just over 11 days of holiday.
  • As a temporary care professional, you get this same calculation, but based on each hour you get paid for. Your holiday pay is accrued and will show on your payslip, you can request this money to take paid leave or every week, it’s yours to manage as you need.

Some employers will offer a holiday entitlement over that statutory limit. Others will have policies about booking leave a specific period in advance or not taking more than two weeks of holiday consecutively.

The point is that, whatever job you do, you must get time away – whether that’s grabbing a coffee or taking a whole week to reset your energy stores.

We all work at our best when we feel enthusiastic and positive, and making sure you’re getting enough holiday, and a decent number of coffee breaks is essential to your health as well as job performance!