When is a Soldier ‘On Duty’?


It can sometimes be confusing to know whether a soldier is on or off duty, with some believing that soldiers are on duty 24 hours per day, 365 day a year.

This article provides a brief outline on when a soldier, in the British Army, is ‘On Duty’ and ‘Off Duty’ – although the general principles are the same across the Services.

When is a Soldier Deemed to be On Duty?

  • Army guidance on Duty Status can be found in British Army Policy.
    • It provides guidance on the categorisation of activities and events, and whether individuals participating in the activity or event can be considered as ‘On Duty’ or ‘Off Duty’.
    • It only provides guidance as it is difficult to categorise every type of activity or event.
    • If a local commander is unable to decide on the Duty Status for an activity or event, further guidance can be sought from the Army Personnel Directorate.
  • Duty Status does not affect an individual’s liability to be recalled in line with policy.
    • It also does not affect the fact that Service personnel are subject to Service Law throughout their service, both on and off duty.
  • Service personnel are considered ‘On Duty’ when performing specific functions required by the Service or during time spent in a particular location where presence is required but the individual is not performing specific functions.
  • Service personnel are considered ‘Off Duty’ during time spent on Service premises as a result of residence in mess/barracks/married quarters.

Do Soldiers have Set Work Hours or are they On Duty 24 Hours a Day?

  • Service Personnel are not considered ‘On Duty’ 24 hours a day.
  • Commanders set the working practices for the unit, often called the Battle Rhythm.
  • When considered against the guidance in Army policy, Service personnel can be identified as ‘On Duty’ or ‘Off Duty’.

What about Overseas Postings?

  • Regular overseas assignments follow the same principles for ‘Duty Status’ as in the UK.
  • Operational overseas assignments and respective duty status is governed by the Permanent Joint Headquarters and the senior Operational Commander following the principles set out in Defence and, where applicable, Army policy.

What about Organised Sport or Recreational Activities?

Army policy provides guidance on sporting and recreational activities:

  • Sport:
    • Sport in the Armed Forces is governed by Defence Policy and Army Policy.
    • Service Personnel can be considered ‘On Duty’ if the activity is either compulsory (as part of training or organised fitness programme), selected by Service authority to represent a Service unit and training for the sport, or taking part in sport authorised and supervised by Service authority or participating in the Joint Service Adventurous Training Scheme.
    • During all other types of sport Service Personnel can be considered ‘Off Duty’.
  • Adventurous Training (AT):
    • AT in the Armed Forces is governed by Defence Policy and Army Policy.
    • Duty Status is covered in the relevant policies in conjunction with the overarching guidance in Army Policy.
  • Travel:
    • Travel to and from a normal place of duty and to and from leave is considered ‘Off Duty’.
    • Travel during an ‘On Duty’ visit other than at the normal place of work is considered ‘On Duty’.

What about Private Life Activities?

During private life activities including time volunteering and leave Service Personnel are considered ‘Off Duty’.


FOI 2021/02738 dated 20 April 2021.


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