Do I have to give my staff a lunch break?
Although the Working Time Directive does not specifically refer to lunch breaks it does state that employees are entitled to a rest break of at least 20 minutes if they work in excess of 6 hours. Workers above school leaving age and under 18 are entitled to one 30-minute rest break if working for longer than 4.5 hours. You may in your contracts of employment offer longer lunch breaks or additional periods of rest.
The regulations state that workers are entitled to take their 20-minute break away from their workstations and that this should be during the working day and not at the beginning or end of work. Under certain circumstances workers who are unable to take their break may be able to take it at another time (called 'compensatory rest').
It can be tempting when you are busy to overlook your legal obligation to provide your staff with rest breaks, however a recent Employment Appeal Tribunal case highlighted that employers must ensure that their workers take breaks and more importantly that they should be proactive in organising their business to ensure that arrangements are in place guaranteeing breaks for their workers. This is even the case where workers have not specifically requested a break.
Workers who are denied statutory rest breaks or holidays, in breach of the Working Time Directive may complain to an employment tribunal. Should the complaint be upheld, the tribunal may order the employer to pay compensation. Workers are protected if they are dismissed or suffer any detriment for challenging their employer's refusal or failure to acknowledge their working time rights or for bringing proceedings before a tribunal or court. You should also be aware that employers requiring any worker who is covered by the Regulations to work excessively long hours could lead to prosecution and an unlimited fine.
HR Services Director
This article is intended as a guide and for general information only and is not a substitute for taking specific advice relating to your situation. For specific advice regarding this or any other issue relating to employment law, please do not hesitate to contact us.