Give it a rest! The latest case law on rest breaks
26 March 2019
Under the Working Time Regulations 1998, workers and employees are entitled to an uninterrupted rest break of at least 20 minutes if their working time is more than six hours. We consider two recent cases concerning the law on rest breaks.
1. Grange v Abellio London Ltd
The employee in this case originally worked 8.5 hours a day, which included a half hour unpaid rest break. However, his hours were then changed to an 8 hour day, so he would work without a break and then finish half an hour earlier at the end of the day.
The employee raised a grievance on the grounds that working without a meal break had affected his health. He pursued a claim in the Employment Tribunal, arguing that his employer had refused to allow him to exercise his right to a rest break.
His claim was unsuccessful, as the Tribunal found that he had not actually requested a break and so there had been no refusal. The employee appealed to the EAT, who upheld his claim. The EAT held that the duty on the employer applies even if the employee hasn’t requested the break. The case was sent back to the Tribunal to decide whether the employee in this case had been denied the rest breaks.
At the remitted hearing, the Tribunal found that the employer had breached the Working Time Regulations, and then turned to the question of compensation. It was agreed that the employee had not suffered any financial loss, but the Tribunal made an award for personal injury and awarded the employee £750 compensation for discomfort and distress. The case ended up back at the EAT on appeal. The EAT held that the Tribunal could make an award for discomfort and distress, even in the absence of medical evidence.
If a worker is a ‘special case’ worker under the Working Time Regulations, meaning that it is not possible for the worker to take the 20 minute rest break, their employer can give them an equivalent period of compensatory rest in order to avoid breaching the regulations. (See our previous article here).
Back in January 2018, we reported on an Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) decision regarding whether Network Rail had breached the Working Time Regulations. The case involved a railway worker who was a special case worker. His employer, Network Rail, argued that it had met its obligations under the regulations by allowing the worker to take short breaks throughout the day which, when taken together, added up to more than the minimum 20 minute rest break entitlement. The EAT held that where an employer provides compensatory rest for special case workers, the break must, as far as possible, be a continuous, uninterrupted 20 minute period.
However, the case recently went to the Court of Appeal and the EAT decision has been overturned. The Court of Appeal held that where the normal entitlement to an uninterrupted 20 minute rest break cannot be met in the case of a ‘special case’ worker, the compensatory rest given does not have to be identical to the normal entitlement, but should have the same value in terms of contributing to the worker’s well-being, and this is for the Tribunal to decide on the facts of each case. The Court of Appeal also held that it was therefore irrelevant whether Network Rail could have provided an uninterrupted 20 minute break by providing relief staff, once it had been found that the compensatory rest provided (i.e. the shorter breaks) was equivalent.
Do get in touch if you would like help or advice regarding your arrangements for workers’ rest breaks. Please call us on 01243 836840 for a no obligation chat, or email us at [email protected]law.co.uk.