Whose responsibility is to ensure staff take their rest breaks?

Fri 13th Jan 2017

Is it up to employers or employees to enforce rest breaks in the workplace? Philip Sayers, Employment lawyer at Coodes Solicitors, comments.

Most businesses know that employees who work for more than six hours are entitled a rest break of at least 20 consecutive minutes sometime during the working day. What is less clear is who is responsible for ensuring the break is taken. Is this down to the employee, or should the employer ensure it is provided?

A recent case

A recent case, involving a relief roadside controller on a bus service, put this issue under the spotlight. He had been working 8 and a half hours a day, with the understanding he would take half an hour’s unpaid rest break. However, he often found it difficult to take his break because of the nature of the work. His employer then emailed him stating that he should now work straight through for eight hours and finish work 30 minutes earlier. At a later date, the employee then raised a grievance claiming his employer had failed to give him statutory rest breaks.

What were the findings?

Interestingly, a tribunal found that the employee had not been denied his statutory right as he had never requested his breaks. The case went to the Employment Appeal Tribunal who held that in fact the employer has a duty to provide a worker with a statutory rest break. It does not need to be requested by the employee.

This case clearly shows that the onus is on employers to ensure rest breaks are provided during a working day of six hours or more. Of course, the reality is that some employees will choose to work through their breaks – and they can’t be forced to take them. If this happens they cannot demand additional pay or expect to be able to leave work earlier.

There are two important messages from this case. Firstly, make sure your working arrangements have provision for all staff working at least six hours to have a break. Secondly, breaks do not have to be paid.

For more information on this or any Employment enquiries contact Philip Sayers, Employment team, Coodes Solicitors on 01872 246200 or philip.sayers@coodes.co.uk

Fri 13th Jan 2017

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