Between January and March 2013, Employment Tribunals received 57,737 claims in total. This is a 36% increase than in the same quarter of 2011/2012. The increase was driven by an increase in claims under the Working Time Directive. Claims under the Working Time Directive doubled over the period and accounted for just over one third of all claims.
One potential explanation for this marked change is the effect on remaining staff as businesses seek to reduce the size of their workforce. Clearly, the country is facing difficult economic times and one would expect, in a cost cutting environment, it is likely that redundancies will be considered. As and when this happens, remaining staff are often asked to take on increased workloads. Inevitably, this is likely to result in longer working hours for those remaining employees and possibly, increased levels of stress.
The link between an increase in claims brought by employees under the Working Time Directive and the continued poor economic climate cannot be ignored; employers are asking more of their remaining employees as they further constrict already tightened belts . Employees themselves will be wary of the repercussions of refusing to work extra hours given the economic climate, but employers should ensure they continue to take appropriate steps to comply with the Working Time Regulations and safeguard their employees’ welfare .
“Prior to the Working Time Regulations, matters such as hours or work, rest breaks and holiday was a simple question of contract between the employer and employee in the same way as pay, benefits or notice,” says Philip Harman, Partner at DWF. “However, the underlying European rationale is that these key areas are important health and safety welfare protection for employees.” Unsurprisingly, the trend of the case law has been to push the boundaries in line with this objective so that, for example, employees are now entitled to accrue paid holiday even where they are unable to work due to long term sick leave. It is also perhaps unsurprising that the numbers of these sorts of claims are increasing at a time when the general economic environment remains poor and the demands placed upon employees may well be increasing.”
In order to comply with the Working Time Regulations, employers must allow their staff:
• 11 hours of uninterrupted rest a day;
• 24 hours of uninterrupted rest a week (or, at the employer’s choice, 48 hours a fortnight); and
• A rest break of 20 minutes when working more than six hours a day. Although employers are not obliged to ensure staff actually take the 20 minutes’ rest break, they should ensure staff have the opportunity to do so.
Employers can try to resist any claims under the Working Time Regulation by ensuring they have appropriate systems that monitor working hours and rest periods.
Employers may wish to consider adopting an effective stress policy, training managers to understand the situations that may cause stress and using return to work interviews effectively after an absent employee comes back from sick leave.