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Not working your lunch break – breach of the Working Time Regulations?

In the case of Grange vs Abellio London, the Employment Appeals Tribunals (“EAT”) held that employers who deny their employees the opportunity to take an adequate rest break could fall foul of the Working Time Regulations 1998.

Mr Grange worked as a Relief Roadside Controller and was responsible for monitoring buses’ arrival and departure times to regulate the service. Mr Grange was contracted to work an 8.5 hour day, which included half an hour for lunch. However, it was often difficult for him to take a lunch break due to the nature of his role. In response to this, his employer, Abellio London informed him that he could, instead, work 8 hours straight without a lunch break and finish half an hour early.

Mr Grange claimed his employer had acted unlawfully by denying him his right to a 20 minute uninterrupted rest break under the Working Time Regulations. Mr Grange’s original claim was unsuccessful at an Employment Tribunal as it relied on previous cases which suggested that there had to be an actual refusal of a request for him to exercise the right to a rest break and he had not made a specific request.

Decision

However, the EAT held that an employee is not required to ask for a rest break in order for their employer to be found to have refused a rest break. They held that an employer’s actions could be construed or interpreted as a refusal to give the employee a rest break if it fails to put in place arrangements to allow workers to have such a break. The EAT held that Abellio had denied Mr Grange that right.

This decision left a number of factual questions to be answered. The claim was remitted back to the Tribunal. The question for the Tribunal to decide is whether Abellio had, in fact, denied Mr Grange the right to a rest break when he was simply too busy to take a lunch break, even though a break was included in the timetable and when he was given the option of working 8 hours straight, he was told he could take a break if he wanted.

Comment

Where a worker’s daily working time is more than 6 hours, they are entitled to 20 minutes uninterrupted break. This case establishes that employees do not need to ask for a rest break before they can claim to have been refused a break. As an employer, you must therefore be pro-active in ensuring that arrangements are in place to allow employees to take rest breaks. Provisions in contracts of employment, your staff handbook and written communications stating employees’ entitlement to a rest break are likely to help show that you have complied with this obligation.

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Legal news, views, trends and tools for HR Professionals. Stay ahead. Go further