The "Right" to a Rest Break
In the case of Grange -v- Abellio London Ltd, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (“the EAT”) was required to consider whether an employee must request a rest break before claiming to have been refused the rest break.
Regulation 12(1) of the Working Time Regulations 1998 (“the WTR”) states that where a worker’s daily working time is more than 6 hours, he is entitled to a rest break of at least 20 minutes, and the worker is entitled to spend it away from his workstation if he has one.
Mr Grange had an 8.5 hour working day which included a half hour lunch break. However, the nature of his work made it difficult to fit his lunch break into the working day. Abellio emailed Mr Grange and told him to work through his break, but to finish half an hour early at the end of the shift instead. Two years later, Mr Grange submitted a grievance complaining that he had been forced to work without a break which had contributed to a decline in his health.
The original Employment Tribunal concluded that as Abellio had specifically provided for the break in the employee’s terms & conditions, Mr Grange did not actually make a specific request for a break and therefore Abellio had not actually refused the break.
However, Mr Grange appealed the decision and the EAT determined instead that an employer is in breach of the WTR regarding rest breaks if they make it impossible for an employee to take a 20 minute break, even if they don’t expressly prohibit this. In other words the employer has an obligation to afford the worker the ability to take a rest break.
This is a cautionary tale for employers with difficult workloads to manage. However, as long as the employer takes active steps to ensure working arrangements enable the worker to take the requisite rest break, it cannot force workers to take the rest break.