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Statutory rest breaks - whose responsibility?

Do employers need to insist workers take their breaks, or is it up to the employee to assert their rights to a rest break. And what actually constitutes a ‘break’ in the first place?

Do employers need to insist workers take their breaks, or is it up to the employee to assert their rights to a rest break.  And what actually constitutes a ‘break’ in the first place?

Under the Working Time Regulations 1998 employees who work for more than 6 hours can bring an Employment Tribunal claim against their employers if they are refused permission to exercise their right to a 20 min rest break during the working day. But do employees have to request these breaks or is it up to the employer to ensure that the breaks are taken? This issue was considered by the EAT in the case of Grange v Abellio London Ltd when the EAT found that regardless of whether an employee requests his or her statutory rest break the employer has a duty to provide it. The EAT went on to say that if an employer puts in place a working arrangement which fails to allow a 20min rest break then this would amount to a “refusal” even if the employee hasn’t actually made a request.

The onus therefore is on the employer to provide employees with an opportunity to take their statutory rest break. This doesn’t mean that employers have to force employees to take their break but it does mean that employers should build a 20 min unpaid rest break into a shift. If an employee then chooses to work through the break then that’s up to them.

To qualify as a ‘break’ the 20 minutes (more for younger workers) needs to be continuous, uninterrupted and taken away from the workstation.

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