In this case, the EAT considered whether the employer had "refused" to give an employee a rest break even where he had not expressly requested them.
Where a worker's daily working time is longer than six hours, he or she is entitled to an uninterrupted rest break. If a worker is refused a rest break, he or she can bring a claim in the employment tribunal.
Mr Grange works for Abellio London Ltd as a Relief Roadside Controller (or an "SSQ"). Mr Grange's working day initially lasted eight and a half hours, the half hour being unpaid and treated as a lunch break. Because of the nature of the work performed by an SSQ, it was often difficult to fit the break in and, in recognition of this, the length of the working day changed to eight hours. The idea behind this was that the SSQs would work through without a break and finish half an hour earlier. Two years after the change was made, Mr Grange raised a grievance, complaining that he had been forced to work without a break. The grievance was not upheld, and he claimed in the employment tribunal that Abellio had refused to permit him to exercise his right to a 20 minute rest break.
The tribunal rejected his claim, on the basis that a "refusal" had to be a "distinct act in response to a worker's attempt to exercise his or her right". The employer would only be at fault if it had deliberately refused rest breaks. Until his grievance, Mr Grange had never actually made a request, so there could not have been a refusal.
Mr Grange appealed.
The EAT looked at what it considered to be conflicting case law. Taking a decision by the European Court of Justice into account, it held that the employer has an obligation to afford the worker the entitlement to take a rest break, and that the entitlement will be "refused" if it puts into place working arrangements that fail to allow the taking of such breaks.
The case was remitted to the tribunal to decide.
What does this mean for employers?
The EAT made it clear that employers should proactively allow workers to take rest breaks. This is relevant to all workforces – though workers in some sectors may be more likely to enforce their rights than others. Employers may wish to review their working arrangements to ensure that they allow for 20 minute rest breaks.