Under the Working Time Regulations, where workers’ daily working time is more than 6 hours, they are entitled to a rest break of 20 minutes.

When a worker is refused this right, they may bring a claim in the Employment Tribunal. In the recent Employment Appeal Tribunal case of Grange -v- Abellio London Limited, the EAT found while workers could not be forced to take rest breaks, employers needed to pro-actively ensure that working arrangements allowed for workers to take those rest breaks. The entitlement to a rest break will be refused if the employer puts in place working practices that fail to allow the taking of 20-minute rest breaks.

What were the facts in this case?

Mr Grange was employed by Abellio London Limited (Abellio) from 2009 in a role which required him to monitor the arrival and departure times for a bus service and to regulate the service. Initially, his working day lasted 8 ½ hours, the half hour being unpaid and treated as a rest break. In reality, it could be difficult for him to take that break. From mid July 2012, the length of the working day for those in Mr Grange’s role changed to 8 hours, the idea being that the employees would work without a break and finish half an hour earlier. This was communicated during a staff meeting (at which Mr Grange was not present) but this did not constitute a workforce agreement to exclude or modify the rest break.

In July 2014, Mr Grange submitted a grievance complaining that for 2 ½ years he had been forced to work without a meal break which had impacted on his health. The grievance was heard and eventually rejected. In the meantime, Mr Grange lodged a claim in the Employment Tribunal, claiming that he had been denied his entitlement to a rest break throughout different periods of his employment.

What was the decision?

In this particular case (although there are conflicting EAT decisions on the correct approach) the EAT adopted the approach that the duty is on the employer to “afford” rest breaks rather than “withdraw into a passive role and grant rest periods only to those workers who ask for them”. The entitlement to a rest break will be refused if the employer puts in place working arrangements that fail to allow the taking of 20 minute rest breaks. The actual case has been remitted back to the Tribunal to consider whether rest breaks had been denied to Mr Grange in respect of 3 different periods including where an expectation was communicated that Mr Grange would work through an eight hour day without a break but could “take a meal break if he wanted one”.

Action point

In many roles, workers do not take rest breaks and usually would not complain that the right had been denied to them. Their perception may be that it is their choice given their heavy workload not to take a break. However, with this recent case, an employer may not be able to argue this as a defence if a worker then later complains that their rights have been breached.

It is important therefore, that employers are proactive in ensuring that working arrangements allow for workers to take rest breaks and this is communicated to them.