Rest breaks – you can’t just rely on your staff to take them!

What is the development?

You will no doubt have heard about the latest bad press for Amazon regarding the way in which the their drivers are treated – not only their rate of pay, but also the hours they are expected to work and the consequent dangers to other road users.

A legal development this month may just make it worse…

There had been conflicting case law on whether employees had to specifically request a rest break in order to claim that the break had been refused. The EAT resolved the issue this week by deciding that employers have a positive obligation to provide rest breaks and will have ‘refused’ to do so if the work arrangements they put in place effectively mean that workers cannot take a break.

What does this mean for employers?

Hopefully, most employers do ensure appropriate rest breaks can be taken, particularly where failure to do so has a serious health and safety risk – not only to the worker, but also the wider public. The damage to an organisation’s reputation for not doing so could be considerable.

However, the growth in the ‘gig economy’ and workers undertaking multiple jobs, means that this obligation could be quite onerous. Do you know what hours your workers are working elsewhere? Do you know if they have taken adequate breaks? What arrangements do you have in place to address this?

This obligation now seems to be squarely on each employer’s shoulders.  Ignoring these risks can lead to both legal exposure and reputational damage.

Our comment

Working practices in the UK are evolving all the time. Flexibility and new working methods can provide benefits for both employers and employees, but health and safety issues need to be kept in mind – whether it is someone working long hours in the office, out on the road or perhaps even working in their own home environment.