In late 2016 we reported on a case that showed employers must encourage their employees to take rest breaks or they are, in the eyes of the Employment Tribunal, ‘refusing’ a work break. A recent case looks at the nature of the 20-minute break workers are entitled to if they work 6 or more hours in a single shift.

A relief cover signalman was not able to take a continuous 20-minute break due to the nature of his duties, as he often worked alone. Instead, he was allowed to take 5-minute breaks throughout the day, which would often accumulate to well in excess of 20 minutes. His employer argued that this was more beneficial to him from a Health and Safety point of view and thus met the requirements of the Working Time Regulations; the Employment Tribunal disagreed. The company was found to be in breach of its obligations under the Working Time Regulations.

The Employment Tribunal held that to be compliant, an employer must offer and encourage workers to take a break of at least 20 minutes; shorter breaks throughout the day, regardless of the amount of time accumulated, will not be an equivalent period of compensatory rest.