Compensation for failure to provide rest breaks can include an award for personal injury

In the following case, the Employment Appeal Tribunal ruled that compensation for failure to provide rest breaks under the Working Time Regulations (WTR) can include an award for personal injury. This is the first ruling of its type and may open the door for claimants to make personal injury claims for breach of rest break entitlements in the WTR.

Relevant principles

Under the WTR, workers are entitled to an unpaid rest break of at least 20 minutes if they work for more than six hours a day. The break must be for an uninterrupted period and spent away from workers’ workstations. Exceptions exist for some sectors, such as transport, or where an individual’s working time is unmeasured. If a claim is well founded, a tribunal can award compensation in a sum that it considers is just and equitable considering the employer’s default and any loss suffered by the worker. Previous cases had decided that such loss does not include any injury to feelings.

Facts

The Claimant had worked for his employer since 2009. Initially his working day was 8.5 hours of which half an hour was unpaid and treated as a lunch break. In July 2012, the employer reduced his working hours (and those of others in a similar role) to 8 hours, expecting employees to work without a break and finish half an hour earlier.

In July 2014, the Claimant submitted a grievance that he had been forced to work without a meal break for two and a half years which had impacted his health. The grievance was not upheld.

Claim

The Claimant brought a complaint in the employment tribunal (ET) that his employer had acted unlawfully by refusing to permit him to exercise his entitlement to a rest break under the WTR.

ET

Upholding his claim, the tribunal agreed with the Claimant’s submission that his employer’s working arrangements failed to allow its workers to take their rest breaks.

The Clamant had suffered no financial loss as he had continued to be paid his full salary for the shorter working day. However, the tribunal was satisfied from the Claimant’s evidence, without medical evidence, that the lack of rest breaks would have had some adverse impact on the Claimant’s existing medical condition, even if it were limited to some discomfort, and some compensation was due. The tribunal considered that a just and equitable award was £750.

EAT

The employer appealed against the award of compensation, contending that it represented an award for injury to feelings and/or personal injury, and in either case was not permitted, citing Court of Appeal authority; alternatively, that the award was excessive in the absence of medical evidence.

The EAT agreed that the WTR did not permit awards for injury to feelings but the Court of Appeal authority was not determinative of whether WTR excluded an award for personal injury.

The EAT also did not view the award of £750 as excessive. Low value claims could be awarded without the need for medical evidence. The Claimant had given evidence and been questioned about how the lack of rest breaks had affected his health so the tribunal had enough evidence to make an award of £750 for ‘discomfort and distress’.

Implications

Following this ruling, it may become more common for claimants to bring personal injury claims when they have been denied rest breaks and can prove that they have suffered more than a minor inconvenience as a result. In low value claims, it would appear likely that medical evidence need not be obtained and the tribunal can make their own assessment of loss.

Grange v Abellio London Ltd

Warning: this news item is not a substitute for legal advice. The information may be incorrect or out of date and does not constitute a definitive or complete statement of the law. This news item is not intended to constitute legal advice in any specific situation. Readers should obtain legal advice and not rely on the information in this article.