Creating a culture where staff are actively encouraged to take a break from their work is a key responsibility for employers.
The point was emphasised in one recent case where a bus company employee claimed he was forced to work eight-hour shifts without lunch breaks, in contravention of Working Time Regulations.
His working day was fixed at eight-and-a-half hours on the basis he would have half-an-hour for lunch, but the nature of the job made it difficult for him to take a break.
He subsequently complained to an Employment Tribunal that his employer had either instructed him, or expressed an expectation, that he would work straight through for eight hours and then leave work half-an-hour earlier.
The tribunal dismissed his claim, finding that his employer had not refused him a break.
However, an Employment Appeal Tribunal found that although workers cannot be forced to take rest breaks, they are to be positively enabled to do so by their employer.
This was a common sense interpretation of the Working Time Regulations and ensured that the purpose of the European Working Time Directive, under which the regulations had been implemented, was met.
The case went back to the tribunal to determine whether on the facts the employer had breached its duty to positively enable the employee to take rest breaks.
This is an important case, given the culture that exists within many businesses and organisations where staff feel pressured to keep working and not take breaks.
While employees are entitled to choose not to take their rest breaks, deciding whether that is their own choice or a response to their working environment may be difficult to determine.
Employers can take steps to avoid failing their staff in this regard. Effective internal communication, employment handbooks and staff training can help mitigate against the risk of any claims.
How can our Employment Lawyers help?
Understanding employment law is crucial for any business. When grievances and disputes with staff happen they take priority, regardless of the distraction this may cause you. If you don’t handle them correctly, there’s a real risk that you will end up in the Employment Tribunal.
Our specialist solicitors, based in Ipswich, Melton, Hadleigh, Felixstowe and Woodbridge, act for businesses large and small in Suffolk, Essex and further afield. We can guide you to where you need to be with a minimum of fuss and expense.
To find out more, contact our Employment Solicitors on 01473 298126.