Are your employees too busy to take a break?

Coffee break

Most employees who work for more than 6 hours are entitled to a rest break of 20 minutes, but what if your employees are too busy to take their breaks?

An Employment Appeal Tribunal case determined that whilst workers cannot be forced to take rest breaks, the employer is under a positive duty to enable breaks to be taken. Failure to do so means workers can bring claims.

In the case referred to, the claimant worked 8.5 hour days with, supposedly, a 30-minute lunch break each day. The claimant was regularly too busy to take the break though and, as a result, the employer decided to reduce the working day to 8 hours so that the claimant would simply finish half an hour earlier.

The employer argued that because the claimant hadn’t requested a rest break, it couldn’t be responsible for refusing to allow one; the ordinary definition of refusal, of course, indicating that it is a response to an action or question.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal disagreed and sent the case back to the Tribunal to determine:

  • whether the claimant being too busy amounted to failure on the employer’s part to allow the claimant to exercise his right to a rest break; and
  • whether the claimant was denied his entitlement to a rest break entirely when his working day was shortened to 8 hours.

Your employees regularly being too busy to take breaks is often indicative of other issues and can lead to more serious claims; where health and safety is at risk, it can give rise to potential claims for constructive unfair dismissal, discrimination and whistleblowing detriment.

If you have any queries in relation to rest breaks, working time or any other employment law issue, please contact a member of our Employment team, who will be pleased to assist.

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