Under the Working Time Regulations 1998 (WTR), workers are entitled to an unpaid rest break of 20 minutes when working for more than six hours per day (Regulation 12).

If a worker brings a successful claim for breach of this right, an Employment Tribunal may award such compensation as it considers to be just and equitable, taking account of the employer’s default and any loss sustained by the worker as a result (Regulation 30). In Grange v Abellio London Ltd, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (the EAT) has ruled that an award for failure to provide rest breaks may also include compensation for personal injury.

Mr Grange succeeded in his claim that his employer, Abellio London Ltd, had refused to allow him to exercise his entitlement to rest breaks on 14 working days. Although Abellio had not actively denied a request for a rest break, he had been unable to take a break because of the way his working day was arranged. Mr Grange gave evidence that, due to a bowel condition which Abellio was aware of, the lack of breaks had caused him discomfort which was more than a minor inconvenience. On this basis, the Tribunal awarded him compensation of £750. Abellio appealed, arguing that Regulation 30 of the WTR does not permit an award of damages for personal injury and, alternatively, that an award of £750 was excessive and had been made without a rigorous medical assessment by the Tribunal.

The EAT dismissed Abellio’s appeal, agreeing with the Tribunal that damages for personal injury are permitted for breach of the right to a rest break. Given that the purpose of the EU Working Time Directive is to protect workers’ health and safety, it would be natural for the WTR to allow personal injury damages. In the previous case of Gomez v Higher Level Care Limited, the Court of Appeal ruled that damages for injury to feelings were not available to an employee who argued that lack of rest breaks had damaged her health and well-being. However, this did not mean that compensation for personal injury could not be awarded.

The EAT also held that Employment Tribunals were entitled to assess low value personal injury claims without requiring costly medical reports or referring to judicial guidelines. Mr Grange had given evidence about the effect on his health of not taking rest breaks, and had been cross-examined on this evidence. There was therefore no basis to interfere with the award of £750.

Where workers have been unable to take rest breaks, compensation will usually be based on the hourly rate for the additional time worked. However, subject to any appeal, this decision means that workers who can show that they have suffered more than a minor inconvenience may also claim personal injury damages, for example, where they have back problems or other musculoskeletal conditions. It is worth noting that although Tribunals must make a common-sense assessment of loss, medical evidence may not be required in low value personal injury claims. This case also confirms that there is no requirement under the WTR to explicitly request a rest break, and that employers should therefore be proactive in enabling workers to take adequate breaks in order to protect their health and safety.