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Personal injury award for failure to provide rest breaks

A recent case involving a worker seeking compensation from an employer for failure to provide rest breaks has ruled that an award for personal injury can be included in such a claim.

In Grange v Abellio London Ltd the Employment Appeal Tribunal clarified that an employer can be considered to be in breach of Working Time Regulations 1998 (“WTR”) even if a rest break has not actively been refused. The case also ruled that an award for personal injury can be included in rest break compensation, although an award for injury to feelings is excluded.

Overview

Under the WTR an employed adult is entitled to a rest break of 20 minutes minimum during a working day of more than six hours.

In this case Mr Grange was employed by Abellio London Ltd as a relief roadside controller. He was responsible for monitoring bus service arrival and departure times and making any schedule adjustments taking into account traffic conditions. Prior to being employed in this role, he had worked for the same company as a bus driver.

His working day as a roadside controller was set at 8.5 hours with an unpaid break of half an hour for lunch. The role was unpredictable, however, and it proved difficult for a half hour lunch break to be taken. This resulted in the working day being reduced in July 2012 to 8 hours with no break.

In July 2014 Mr Grange claimed that being forced to work without a break was having an impact on his health and he submitted a grievance which was rejected by his employer.

At the Employment Tribunal, Mr Grange claimed that Abellio had acted unlawfully by refusing rest breaks.

The Tribunal initially dismissed Mr Grange’s claim on the basis that refusing a rest break had to be a response to a direct request from the worker for a break. Mr Grange appealed the decision and the EAT ruled that the entitlement to a rest break under the Working Time Directive was something that employers were expected to adhere to and not something that workers had to request. The refusal in this case was a denial of right and did not have to be as a response to a request.

Considering the issue of compensation, the original tribunal found that although there had been no financial loss, Mr Grange had suffered personally from not having rest breaks. He was awarded £750 which Abellio appealed, claiming that compensation was not due for injury to feelings or personal feelings. The EAT upheld the claim that compensation was not payable for injury of feelings but ruled that low value claims such as this should take a “common sense” approach when considering whether a personal injury claim was valid, which did not necessarily require the submission of medical evidence. The EAT said that Mr Grange had given evidence about how a lack of rest breaks had impacted his health and that this was enough to support an award of £750.

Comment

This is an important case for employers to be aware of because it clarifies what is expected of them under the WTR. An employer has a responsibility to make sure that employees are able to take rest breaks and that a denial can lead to a claim of compensation. If an employee’s health has suffered because rest and meal breaks were not provided, employers could be liable to pay compensation.

In this case, the financial award was not huge, but a precedent has now been set for personal injury claims in tribunals involving rest break disputes. A more significant health impact could result in a higher compensation award.

Following this case, it is the responsibility of the employer to make sure that employees are able to take rest breaks and allocate their work schedule as such. Failure to do so can be seen as refusal under WTR without the employee needing to actively request a break.