Author: Keith Potter
There has been conflicting case law on the subject of the right of workers to take rest breaks during the working day. The Working Time Regulations entitle a worker to an uninterrupted rest break of at least 20 minutes (or 30 minutes in the case of a worker less than 18 years’ old) where the working day exceeds 6 hours.
The Regulations also entitle a worker to complain to an employment tribunal and to recover compensation if his employer refuses to permit him to exercise his right. Conflicting views have previously been expressed about the circumstances in which such a refusal to permit rest breaks can be said to arise.
A recent case (Grange v Abellio London Ltd) involved an employee whose job required him to monitor the arrival and departure times of a bus service and to regulate the service as necessary. Initially his working day lasted for eight and a half hours, the half hour being unpaid and treated as a rest break. In practice it was difficult, if not impossible, for the employee to take the rest break and it was certainly not uninterrupted. After some years the working day was reduced in length to eight hours, with the idea that employees would work without a break but finish half an hour earlier.
The employee lodged a grievance, complaining that he had been forced to work without a rest/meal break. This was rejected by the employer, on the basis that the employee had not expressly requested a rest break and that nothing had been refused. The employee pursued an employment tribunal claim. On appeal the claim was upheld by the Employment Appeal Tribunal. The Court ruled that the employer “cannot withdraw into a passive role and grant rest periods only to those workers who ask for them". Although employees cannot be forced to take rest breaks, employers must act proactively to ensure that working arrangements make realistic and practical provision to allow employees to take rest breaks. Employers will be treated as refusing employees the right to a rest break if they fail to make such arrangements.