Your Right to a Rest Break at Work

04 January 2017

In England & Wales a worker is entitled to a 20 minute rest break in a six hour working period under the Working Time Regulations 1998.

Even if you have made no actual request for a rest break, your employer will be in breach of the Regulations if it fails to take active steps to put in place working arrangements that allow you to take the rest breaks.

You are only entitled to one rest break no matter how long beyond the six hours you work. A rest break is a period within working hours during which you are freed from the obligations of your job. The rest break must be a period which the worker knows in advance will be uninterrupted, is uninterrupted and the worker can use as he or she pleases.

It is not sufficient to ask a worker who is on call (and therefore working) to take their rest break as he can during his working time. You are entitled to an uninterrupted period of at least 20 minutes and are entitled to know at the start of the rest break that it will be uninterrupted. A period cannot retrospectively become a 20 minute rest break.

You can bring a claim against your employer if it has refused to permit you to exercise your right to:

  • Daily rest (the right to a minimum of 11 hours off in every 24 hour period)
  • Weekly rest (the right to 24 hours off in every seven-day period or equivalent provision)
  • Rest breaks
  • Annual leave (the right to a minimum of 5.6 weeks’ annual leave)
  • Compensatory rest breaks where you have had to work beyond your normal hours or without your normal breaks

    • The right to be paid for any annual leave that you are owed but had not taken when your employment terminated.

In the recent Employment Appeal Tribunal decision of Grange v Abellio London (2016) the Judge held that employers:

  • Must not deny works requests for statutory rest breaks
  • Must not put in place working arrangements that have the effect of denying statutory rest breaks; and
  • Must pro-actively put in place working arrangements that enable workers to take statutory rest breaks.

In the case of Grange, the Claimant was employed as a relief roadside controller. He was responsible for monitoring and regulating the frequency of the Respondent’s bus service. He worked eight and a half hours per day, with the half hour being unpaid and treated as a lunch break. However, given the responsive nature of the role it could be difficult to take that break. The Claimant was told that he was required to work eight hours without a break, and so he took the rest break at the end of his shift.

The Claimant submitted a grievance to his employer complaining that he had been forced to work without a meal break for two and a half years which had impacted on his health. In the first instance the Employment Tribunal rejected the claim since he had not made any request for a rest break. This meant his employer had not actually refused any such request and was therefore not in breach of the Regulations.

The Claimant then appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal which upheld the Claimant’s claim on the basis that the decision in a previous case called Miles was in error. It found that no request was necessary in order for there to be a refusal for the purposes of a claim under the Regulations.

This Employment Appeal Tribunal decision is at odds with the other case of Miles v Linkage Community Trust (2008). It will take a decision of the Court of Appeal or Supreme Court on this issue to resolve the conflict. However, as the issue was fully argued in Grange and the relevant authorities taken into account it is our view that it is to be preferred to Miles.

Even though you do not necessarily have to put in a grievance about not being entitled to a rest break before you can bring a claim, it is still good practice to do this so that your employer is given the opportunity to remedy the situation before proceedings start.

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