Personal injury damages available to workers denied rest breaks

Personal injury damages available to workers denied rest breaks

Personal injury damages available to workers denied rest breaks

The Employment Appeal Tribunal has confirmed in its decision in Grange v Abellio London Ltd that compensation for personal injury may be available where an employer has failed to provide statutory rest breaks and the employee has suffered physical discomfort or a worsening of an underlying health condition as a result.

Facts

In most cases, the Working Time Regulations (“WTR”) entitle workers to a rest break of at least 20 minutes where their working day is longer than six hours. Workers can bring a claim in the employment tribunal for breach of this right. The tribunal can award just and equitable compensation, having regard to the employer’s default in refusing to permit the worker to exercise the right and any loss sustained by the worker.

Mr Grange worked for Abellio London Ltd (“Abellio”) initially as a bus driver, then as a worker who monitored and regulated bus services. Mr Grange had a working day of eight and a half hours, comprised of a 30-minute unpaid break and eight hours of paid work, although his employer had expressed in writing that he was expected to work the eight hours consecutively. Mr Grange brought a complaint in the employment tribunal that Abellio had refused to allow him to exercise his statutory entitlement to rest breaks, which had contributed to a decline in his health.

Decision

Although there had been no deliberate act of refusal by Abellio to allow rest breaks, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (“EAT”) confirmed that an employer’s arrangement of the working day could amount to the de facto refusal of a rest break even if it was not expressly demanded by the worker. Due to time limits, there were only 14 days on which Abellio was found to be in breach. Mr Grange gave evidence that due to an underlying medical condition, the lack of rest breaks had caused him discomfort beyond a minor inconvenience. In light of this, on remittal to the tribunal, it was concluded that £750 would be a just and equitable award.

The EAT made it clear that because the intention of the WTR is to protect workers’ health and safety, awards for personal injury should be allowed. The EAT did not interfere with the award of £750, finding that tribunals can make common-sense assessments without needing to obtain expensive medical evidence in low-value claims.

Comment

At present, it is not known whether Abellio will seek to appeal this decision. In the meantime, this outcome is likely to open the door to employees seeking damages for personal injury where, as a result of their employer denying them statutory rest breaks, they have suffered discomfort amounting to more than a minor inconvenience. The EAT’s comment that, for low value claims, no medical evidence will necessarily be required means that this claim is more accessible for claimants.

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