Tribunal confirms that workers must receive an uninterrupted break of no less than 20 minutes where they work for six hours or longer.
As we are sure you are aware, the law states that most workers who work for over six hours are entitled to a 20 minute uninterrupted rest break. It is not acceptable, for example, to give two 10 minute breaks totalling 20 minutes.
In certain industries (such as rail and security) those breaks are interrupted. A security guard who ignores a robber attempting to crack the bank’s safe is unlikely to absolve him or herself by saying “Sorry boss, I was on my break!” In these circumstances, where an employee has been prevented from taking their full 20 minutes, an employer must give the employee another rest break, known as ‘compensatory rest’.
Recently the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) was called upon to examine what exactly was meant by compensatory rest. Mr Crawley worked in single-manned signal boxes for Network Rail. Whilst signal box operatives are not constantly busy, they are required to continuously monitor and may be required to take steps to ensure the train network operates smoothly and safely. Whilst Mr Crawley was able to take numerous breaks throughout the day (which cumulatively amounted to over 20 minutes), there was no individual 20 minute long break. Mr Crawley said he had not had his 20 minute rest break, and sued Network Rail.
The EAT agreed with Mr Crawley and held that his rest must be an uninterrupted period of 20 minutes. A combination of shorter breaks is not allowed.
What does this mean?
This case is a reminder that employees must have a full uninterrupted 20 minute break. In the event that an employee’s 20 minute break is interrupted, technically they must be given another full 20 minute break. Where an employee is not allowed to take this break, they may in theory bring a claim.
Where a complaint is upheld, the Employment Tribunal will make a declaration that the working time regulations have been breached, and may award damages where the worker has suffered a loss. A public declaration that an employer has breached the Working Time Regulations will undoubtedly cause reputational damage, and may put off customers and potential candidates alike.
Where a lack of breaks makes working practices unsafe, local councils or the Health and Safety Executive can issue enforcement notices, or even bring criminal charges against the worst offenders.
What should I do?
Don’t panic; the likelihood of an employee bringing a claim because of one 18 minute rest break is fairly low (unless you have particularly litigious employees).
Firstly, review your break policy and record keeping practices to ensure that:
1. all employees are entitled to a full 20 minute break; and
2. where these breaks are interrupted, there is scope for employees to take a full 20 minute break later.
Employees should be allowed to take a break of at least 20 minutes (and remember these breaks can be unpaid). You may also consider ways in which you can record the lengths of breaks employees are taking (e.g. clocking in and out, timesheets and/or time recording).
You should also remember that 20 minutes is an absolute minimum; a modern employer should allow further breaks where the health and safety of their employees requires it. This may be the case for employees working particularly long shifts.
What are the benefits?
Having adequate breaks helps employees to be productive, safe and happy at work. It also lowers the risk of a claim being made against you and the potential of a damaging working time declaration.
If you have any questions about rest breaks or the Working Time Regulations in general please contact a member of our Employment Team on 01603 281153 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: the content of this article is for general information only and does not constitute legal advice. Specific legal advice should be taken in any specific circumstance.