The importance of ensuring that workers can break up their working day

1 December, 2016

When a worker’s daily working time is more than six hours, they are employment-watchentitled to a twenty minute break in accordance with the provisions of the Working Time Regulations 1998. The recent case of Grange v Abellio London Limited has highlighted how important it is for employers to actively ensure that a worker’s work pattern allows them to take this break.

The Facts

Mr Grange was employed by Abellio in a role which required him to monitor the arrival and departure times of a bus service and to regulate the service. Initially his working day lasted 8.5 hours, with 0.5 hours being treated as a rest break and therefore unpaid.

In 2012 the length of the working day for those in Mr Grange’s role changed to 8 hours, the idea being that employees would work without a break and finish half an hour earlier.

In 2014 Mr Grange submitted a grievance complaining that he had been forced to work without a meal break for 2.5 years and this had impacted on his health. The grievance was rejected and he then lodged a claim in the employment tribunal claiming that he had been denied his entitlement to a rest break.

The employment tribunal dismissed his claim, finding that he had not been denied his right because no actual request had been made and refused.

The Decision

Mr Grange appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT), who allowed his appeal.

The EAT concluded that employers needed to proactively ensure that working arrangements allow for workers to take rest breaks and it was not sufficient for employers to only play a passive role. This would be inconsistent with the requirements of the Working Time Directive.

It concluded that a rest break would be considered “refused” if the employer puts in place working arrangements that fail to allow the taking of a 20 minute rest break and there was no requirement for there to be an explicit request and refusal. They also concluded that the right to a twenty minute break is not contingent upon a requirement to give notice (unlike the right to take annual leave).

Comment

This case makes it clear that employers must proactively ensure that working arrangements allow for workers to take breaks.

In reality many workers do not take rest breaks and will not complain that this right has been denied to them. Their perception may be that it is their choice, given their heavy workload, not to take a break. However, an employer will not be able to use that as a defence if the employee later complains and seeks to enforce their rights.

Top tips

  • Adopt a shift pattern which allows for breaks or make clear in any contract that the worker has the right to take a break at some point each day so that they know when their break will be or who to request it from.
  • Ensure that those with a high workload are given an opportunity to take a break even if they choose not to do so.