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Why Adequate Rest Breaks are a Legal Essential

Are you ensuring your employees are being given their legally entitled breaks? You’d be surprised how many employees aren’t taking the breaks they’re entitled to.

Employers have numerous duties under the Working Time Regulations 1998 (WTR) Act, including ensuring the 48-hour limit on average weekly working time of their employees is adhered to, that their workers’ holiday pay calculations are correct and that all workers receive specified periods of both daily and weekly rest.

Any worker who works over six hours a day is entitled to an unpaid rest break of at least 20 minutes, which must be uninterrupted and can be spent away from their workstations or environment. However, there are exceptions for this in certain sectors such as transport, and where an individual’s working time is unmeasured.

Breaching this right can result in complaints being brought forward by workers in an employment tribunal and, if successful, the tribunal can result in employers being ordered to give an award of compensation as is “just and equitable in all the circumstances.”

If you want to avoid exposure to these types of claims, then you should:
•Make sure you are checking your employees’ working hours and that they are taking their 20-minute break after working six hours. This could be a lunch break for example and can be unpaid. Although employees can take breaks away from their workstations, there is no requirement for employers to provide break facilities.
•Ensure that entitled breaks, including their duration, are included within the employment contract or a collective agreement and that these are a true reflection of what happens in practice.
•Not make it difficult for workers to take their entitled breaks, either through performance targets set or peer pressure.
•Think about keeping records. Though the WTR only requires that you keep ‘adequate records’ which show compliance with weekly working time and night-work limits, this approach was recently questioned in a European working time case, within which it was concluded that further detailed records were required.

So, it’s important that as an employer you ensure your staff are taking their legally entitled breaks, otherwise you could find yourself breaching the Working Time Regulations 1998 Act.

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