Recent press coverage has suggested that the traditional lunch hour in the UK has shrunk to a mere 19 minutes 42 seconds. In the US, Wal-Mart has recently been fined $172m (£97m) for failing to provide employees with lunch breaks and, in some cases, pressurising them into skipping breaks.
If we take the view that what happens in the US is a useful guide to what's coming in the UK, now seems a good time to recall that the Working Time Regulations give workers minimum rights to breaks and rest periods.
The regulations implemented the EC Working Time Directive 1993. They are probably best known for introducing the limit of 48 hours on the working week, but they also impose additional obligations on employers.
Who is entitled to rest breaks?
The regulations offer protection to 'workers', not just employees. Truly self-employed workers who are undertaking an activity on their own account fall outside that definition, but it does cover the majority of the UK working population. Certain workers (such as transport workers) are currently subject to special rules.
What rest periods are workers entitled to under the regulations?
Each worker is entitled to:
- at least 11 hours off between each working day
- at least one complete day (24 hours) off each week, or two days off each fortnight
- a 20-minute break in any shift of six hours or more.
Young workers (aged under 18 but over the compulsory school age) are entitled to shift breaks of 30 minutes when working a shift in excess of four and a half hours, a daily rest period of 12 hours and a weekly rest period of 48 hours.
When should a worker be given compensatory rest?
In essence, where the employer prevents the worker from taking a rest period or rest break or interrupts a period of rest, the worker should receive compensatory rest. The interruption might occur because the work carried out is divided up over the course of the day (as in the case of a split-shift worker) or where workers change their shift pattern, which results in that worker not being able to take the full daily or weekly rest period. The length of compensatory rest given to a worker should be sufficient to make up for the rest period that the worker
Are there special allowances for workers carrying out monotonous work?
The regulations state that if an employer