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Don’t get taken to tribunal – give your workers a break

With job-related stress on the rise, encouraging your workers to take a breather could be beneficial on many levels. We know how taking a break – even a short one – can give you a pep-up, how five minutes away from your screen can help your productivity, creativity or both (not to mention your eyesight).

But the case of Grange v Abellio London Ltd gave employers another incentive to proactively urge workers to ‘step away from the workstation’ – the possibility of defending a claim in an employment tribunal.

Under the Working Time Regulations 1998 the default position is that a worker is entitled to 20 minutes’ rest break after working for more than six hours. If his/her employer refuses them this, it will be open to the worker to bring a claim under the regulations.

We now know that the worker’s right will arise regardless of whether they’ve formally asked their employer for a break. In other words, the employer needn’t expressly and literally ‘refuse’ their worker’s ‘request’ for a break for the employment tribunal to find against them: an employer that passively sits back, knowing that their worker habitually doesn’t have rest breaks (but doing nothing to change that), may end up with judgment against them too.

Employers should ensure that each of their workers has a real opportunity to take a rest break whenever a right to one arises and actively create arrangements, and an atmosphere, to enable this. Where necessary – for example, where someone needs to be continually present – a worker’s breaks, along with adequate cover, may have to be scheduled.

Employers need not force workers to take rest breaks. But if your organisation’s workers regularly ‘decide’ not to take one, it may be worth looking more closely at your working arrangements. Are your workers being encouraged, rather than discouraged, from taking work breaks? Could you adequately demonstrate this to an employment tribunal?

In the current climate, where allegations about the poor treatment of workers often hit the headlines, reviewing your worker break arrangements (before someone else does) makes sense. Plus, there is empirical evidence to suggest that giving workers a break could actually increase their output.

With imminent changes to the regulations unlikely, perhaps now’s the time for a fresh look at your worker break arrangements.

Added: 10-07-2017

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