HR INFO | Working through lunch

If you look around your office, you may spot many people eating lunch at their desks and diligently getting on with work.

Some may even skip lunch altogether.

Why do employees do this?

Some may think they will be seen by management as less committed to their job or perhaps they feel they can’t take a break because they have really tight deadlines and an intense workload.

This is good news for employers, right? After all, the more an employee works, the more productive they are and the better it is for your organisation.

But the truth is that just because an employee spends more time in front of a computer screen, this doesn’t mean they are doing more. In fact, it is likely that they are not being very productive, are making more mistakes and feeling stressed.

What does the law say about lunch breaks?

The law does not specifically state how long lunch breaks should be, but under the Working Time Regulations, workers are entitled to a minimum uninterrupted rest break of 20 minutes during any working day that exceeds six hours. This should occur at some point in the middle of the day, not at the beginning or end of the day. It does not need to be paid and employers are not obliged to provide a separate room or facilities for workers to enjoy their lunch.

In Grange v Abellio London Limited, the Employment Appeal Tribunal stated that while the employer cannot force their employees to take rest breaks, they should take active steps to ensure that workers’ working arrangements enable the worker to take rest breaks during their shift. If the employer fails to put working arrangements in place that allows the employee to take breaks, the employee can make a complaint to an Employment Tribunal.

Rest breaks – what’s the point?

The aim of rest breaks is not just for comfort, but also to protect the health and well being of employees, prevent them experiencing excessive fatigue and avoid causing accidents. These are the main reasons why employers should be encouraging their employee to take full advantage of scheduled rest breaks.

Ideally, rest breaks should be taken away from the employee’s workstation. Just going to a chill out area in the workplace or going for a walk near the office can give the employee some vital time to switch off and disconnect from work.

How can employers break the cycle?

Managers hold the power to make changes to the workplace culture – they can encourage their team members to take time away from their desk, leave the office and eat properly and without concentrating on work.

Often employers will give an hour for lunch and will allow ad hoc breaks to make tea or coffee or grab a snack. If managers set the right example, employees will feel more comfortable taking a proper break and this can help boost productivity and morale.

If you need any employment law advice about rest breaks, do not hesitate to contact your Employment Law Adviser.

Director of Legal Services

James Tamm

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