The length of both the working day and employees’ breaks are two hot topics, with several high-profile cases having come to light recently, but what should employers take away from the headlines?
In 2003, Regulation 12 of the working time regulations entitled workers to an uninterrupted rest of at least 20 minutes if their daily working time is more than six hours.
The legislation was originally introduced for two reasons; first, for employee health and safety, so people are not working for dangerously long periods of time, and second, to help maintain a healthy work-life balance.
These regulations govern the time that people in the UK are entitled to work. This equates to an average of 48 hours per week, unless opted out, ensuring an 11-hour continuous rest within the 24-hour period, with one 24-hour period off every working week. Additionally, if employees are 16 to 17 years-old, then they are entitled to 30-minutes rest every 4.5 hours.
However, last year’s Network Rail Infrastructure v Crawford case suggests that these rights are still being abused. Network Rail put forward an argument that shorter breaks which eventually amounted to 20 minutes, for example five minutes every hour and a half, were adequate.
However, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) opposed this and stated that an employer is not entitled to meet the 20-minute rest break requirement by aggregating breaks of a shorter duration. It also added that it is not open for discussion for employers to decide not to comply with working time regulation laws, based on what they think is more beneficial.
It is clear from case law that some employers are willing to push the boundaries of the working time regulations. It is therefore important that employees are aware of their rest at work entitlements and ensure they receive them.
Laura Hill is a solicitor at Roythornes Solicitors