Time for a break?

We are all guilty of it – working through lunch hours, working late, not taking breaks – and there is often an underlying culture in firms that if you do take breaks, you’re not ‘pulling your weight’.

Following a recent Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) ruling, you might want to reconsider the way you treat employees taking breaks.

Under the Working Time Regulations (WTR), workers can present a claim to the employment tribunal if an employer has refused to allow them to exercise their rights under the WTR. The WTR give workers the right to a daily rest break of 20 minutes where the worker is working for more than six hours and also allow for a complaint to be made to the employment tribunal (ET) where an employer has refused to permit the worker to take that rest.

In Grange v Abellio London Limited the EAT had to decide whether an employer can only be said to have "refused" a rest break if an employee has made a specific request for one. Mr Grange, whose work was such that it was often difficult to fit a break into his eight-and-a-half-hour shift, complied with a request to change his working pattern so he worked eight hours without a break but left 30 minutes earlier. His subsequent complaint to the ET failed on the basis that he was found not to have made a "request" to take a break and that, therefore, there can have been no refusal of a request.

However, he appealed the ruling and the EAT found in Mr Grange’s favour, saying that the employer has an obligation to “afford the worker the entitlement” to take a rest break. That entitlement will be “refused” by the employer if it puts into place working arrangements that fail to allow the taking of breaks. There is no need for the employee first to have expressly made a request that is then rejected.

The EAT in this case considered that employers are not simply obliged to allow rest breaks where a request is made, but have a proactive duty to ensure that working arrangements allow workers to take those breaks. The EAT sent the case back to the Tribunal for it to consider whether there had been a failure to allow the employee to exercise his entitlement to a rest break.

What this case highlights is that there is a legal requirement for employees to take a break during the working day. It’s not much – 20 minutes if they work over six hours – but there are benefits to ensuring that employees have a proper break – particularly lunch – from their desk. It’s an opportunity to both clear the head (particularly for those who are working at a computer, which is most employees in an office) and eat and drink. Whilst it can sometimes be a challenge in a busy customer-focused working environment to ensure that everyone has a break it should be prioritised through planning. Consider putting into place a Health and Wellbeing policy that encourages good practices in the workplace; it can pay big dividends - humans function much better when they are fed and watered…

Want to introduce a practical Health and Wellbeing policy to your office? Get in touch and we can help you design a bespoke policy that will work for you.

About the author

Kate is the chairman and co-founder of RWA and has worked for the company for nearly 20 years. She is a fan of developing practical, workable, business-led policies and procedures. Kate has specialist training experience within the financial services sector, including major general insurers, and the Lloyd’s underwriting and broking market. She has researched and developed numerous training programmes, both for commercial and in-house use. She has extensive experience of developing in-house and public training programmes for business skills, including Diversity, Employment Law, Management and Leadership, Motivation, Coaching and Feedback, Communication Skills and EQ.

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