Employees are only legally entitled to a 20-minute break - even if they work for 12 hours straight, an Employment Appeal Tribunal ruled this week.
Under the Working Time Regulations (1998), if an employee's daily working time is more than six hours he/she is entitled to a rest break of at least 20 minutes. It was commonly assumed that a worker is entitled to two breaks if they work for more than 12 hours.
But the decision on Wednesday in Commissionaires Management v Hughes has confirmed that a worker is entitled to just that one period of rest for however long he/she works in excess of six hours. So if a worker works for 12 hours or more, he/she is only entitled to one 20-minute break.
Lawyers expressed surprised at the decision but warned hospitality employers to think twice about taking advantage of it in an attempt to cut costs.
Julian Yew, head of the hotel & leisure group at law firm Wedlake Bell, said: "Employers should not take this decision as an encouragement to roster employees to work longer hours with fewer breaks as they can still be exposed to claims for work-related stress, personal injury and negligence.
"Back-to-back shifts can create health and safety problems for businesses. Managers really need to think about the way they compile their duty rosters, as consecutive shifts days on end may prove to bring more harm than benefit to their company."
By Daniel Thomas
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