Can workers opt out of rest breaks?

The Working Time Regulations 1998 (SI 1998/1833) specify minimum rest break and daily and weekly rest period entitlements for adult workers aged 18 and over, and for young workers under the age of 18 but above compulsory school age.

Under the terms of a collective or workforce agreement, the right of adult workers to rest breaks and rest periods can be varied, so long as the employer undertakes to provide equivalent periods of compensatory rest. However, workers cannot opt out of statutory minimum rest entitlements on an individual basis. Employers must make sure that workers can take their rest breaks.

Except in a case of force majeure, there is no exception to the rule prescribing minimum rest breaks and rest periods for young workers. Thus, there is no opt-out permitted either on an individual basis or by virtue of a collective or workforce agreement.

Under the force majeure exception, the right to a minimum rest break and daily rest period does not apply in relation to a young worker where the employer requires him or her to perform work that no adult worker is available to perform where this is the result of unforeseeable circumstances beyond the employer's control or exceptional events. The work must be temporary and there must be a requirement for it to be performed immediately. Young workers who are denied their right to a rest period or rest break in such circumstances must be afforded an equivalent period of compensatory rest within the following three weeks.