Share Article: Breaks mean breaks: employers required to ensure workers take a 20 minute rest

The Employment Appeal Tribunal have recently confirmed that it is a breach of the Working Time Regulations if a worker is not able to take a 20 minute break, even if that worker never requests a break.

The case is a useful reminder that there are many strings to the Working Time Regulations: they cover not just maximum hours but holiday pay, daily and weekly rest as well as a 20 minute break for shifts of 6 hours or more. A break should be just that: it should be an uninterrupted period of 20 minutes or more that the worker is entitled to spend away from his workstation.

In this case, a bus company employee complained that he had not been permitted to take breaks. He was originally employed for an 8½ hour shift. For operational reasons, it was difficult for him and his colleagues to take breaks. The bus company wrote to him and his colleagues to reduce the working day to 8 hours, with the understanding that they would work through without a break. The bus company could have entered into a collective agreement or “workforce agreement” to vary or even exclude the right to a break but it did not.

The issue was whether or not this was a breach of the Regulations on the basis that the worker had never requested a break and so had not had such a request refused. The Appeal Tribunal found that this was irrelevant: there was a breach of the Regulations because the bus company did not take steps to ensure that the worker was permitted to take his statutory break.

The Appeal Tribunal made clear that a worker cannot be forced to take a break: the employer’s duty is to take active steps to ensure working arrangements that enable a worker to take a break. This means making sure that there is enough time in the working day for a worker to complete their work and take a break, and to make sure that there are 20 minutes without interruption where the worker can take a break away from their workstation.

Lessons to learn from the case:

  • A break is a break: time at the beginning or end of the working day cannot be a break
  • Businesses should take active steps to make sure that workers can take a break in a shift of 6 hours or more. This means making sure that it is possible to complete the work and take an uninterrupted 20 minute break away from the workstation.
  • If that is not possible, or if workers want to work through and leave early, the business should enter into either a collective agreement or workforce agreement modifying the usual right to a break.

If you have any questions about or issues arising from the Working Time Regulations, contact Louise Taft, who will be pleased to assist.

T: 020 7935 3522

Whatever your personal circumstances the above is only a guide and we would advise you to contact us to obtain definitive advice as you will appreciate that each person’s circumstances are unique to them.

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