Failure to give workers their statutory rest breaks amounts to a refusal even where no request is made

The Employment Appeal Tribunal has held in Grange v Abellio London Ltd [2016] that a worker can bring a claim under the Working Time Regulations 1998 where an employer fails to allow a worker to take the requisite rest breaks, even if the worker has not requested the breaks.

The employee in this case had routinely been working an eight and a half hour working day, within which there was provision for a half hour unpaid lunch break. The reality was that he was invariably too busy to take his lunch break. His employer therefore decided to shorten his day to eight hours, which enabled him to finish work earlier, but it meant he could not take a rest break during the day.

The employee claimed in the employment tribunal that his employer had denied him his right to a rest break and that this had contributed to his ill-health. The tribunal decided there had been no refusal by his employer of a rest break because the employee had not attempted to enforce his rights by making a specific request for a lunch break. The employee appealed.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal looked to the purpose of the EU Working Time Directive and concluded that it should be actively respected by employers to protect the health and safety of workers. It held that an employer has a duty to give a worker the right to rest, even if the worker does not request it, and it referred the case back to the employment tribunal to be decided on the facts.

Many of us are often too busy to take a proper lunch break. While employers are not expected to force their workers to take breaks, they should take active steps to ensure working arrangements enable workers to take the rest breaks they are entitled to, regardless of whether workers ask to take those breaks, and they should avoid fostering environments in which workers feel pressured to forego appropriate rest breaks. 

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