Can I Have a Rest Break Please?
1 February 2017
Under the Working Time Regulations, an employee who works more than 6 hours is entitled to an uninterrupted rest break of at least 20 minutes. Rest breaks can be either paid or unpaid. The break should be taken during the working day and therefore not at the beginning or end of it by way of a later start or earlier finish - even if this would be more convenient for you and/or the employee.
In a recent case, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) considered whether the employee must have requested the break to be able bring a claim for this entitlement being withheld. The EAT held that the onus is on the employer to provide a worker with a statutory rest break, regardless of whether it is requested by the employee.
It is therefore essential that you ensure your working arrangements allow employees to take rest breaks. If you don’t, you will be in contravention of your employees’ statutory rights under these regulations.
Whilst you must act proactively in this respect, there is no obligation for an employee to actually use their rest break. Therefore, if you make allowance for a rest break but the employee decides not to take it, that’s entirely up to them (and they can’t demand an extra payment for working through their break if it was genuinely their decision to work through!).
It is also worth noting that if a working day exceeds 12 hours, the statutory requirement is still only for one, 20 minute, rest break. However, for shifts of this length, additional Health and Safety considerations will need to be taken into account when deciding what rest breaks may be appropriate.
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