Earlier this year, 92 employees at Paddy Power who were denied rest breaks were awarded €90,000 in compensation by Workplace Relations Commission who found in their favour.
The recent case of A Store Manager v A Retail Pet Shop is again a timely reminder of the necessity for employers to ensure that employees are not expected to be at the employer’s disposal during daily and weekly rest breaks.
These recent legal trends in Ireland are very much in line with EU direction on this – focusing on providing employees with adequate rest breaks and on protecting the quality of employee downtime.
In the case of A Store Manager v A Retail Pet Shop, the Complainant lodged a number of claims for alleged breaches of the Organisation of Working Time Act (“the Act”) following the termination of her employment.
The Complainant alleged that the employer had breached her rights under Section 13 of the Act by requiring her to remain available to take work calls during her weekly rest periods. She claimed that had been instructed by her manager that she was required to have her work phone switched on at all times even when she was off duty and claimed that the manager constantly called her on her days off about minor issues and that this disrupted her family and personal life regularly and interfered with family activities.
Records of telephone calls between the Complainant and her Manager which occurred outside of her normal contractual daily working hours showed several telephone calls and text messages which occurred later than 9pm. An email sent by the Complainant’s manager to the Store Managers read as follows “I expect every Store Manager to have their phone switches on at all times, unless you are on holidays and have handed the phone over to your assistant manager, it is your responsibility to have your phone on you at all times…”.
The WRC was satisfied that the Complainant was required to be contactable by her Manager while on her weekly rest periods and that she was in effect at her employer’s disposal for that period of time. The WRC found that the requirement that the Complainant be contactable by her manager during the periods she was off duty amounted to an interruption of the Complainant’s weekly rest period and that the employer had contravened Section 13 of the Act. The WRC Adjudicator found that the Complainant’s claim in this regard was well founded.
The case is interesting as it represents a further example of the recent trend both in Ireland and the EU generally in favour of prohibiting employers from blurring the lines between working time and rest time.
While there can be some limited exceptions, as a general rule of thumb employees should be allowed to enjoy their statutory rest breaks without being disturbed by their employer.
As a reminder, all Workers are entitled to:
- A 15-minute break for the first four and a half hours worked and if they work more than six hours, they are entitled to 30-minute break.
- 11 consecutive hours rest in any period of 24 hours
- 24 consecutive hours rest in any period of 7 days and this should normally follow on from one of the 11-hour rest periods mentioned above, or as an alternative your employer can give you two 24-hour rest periods in a week if it follows a week, in which you did not get any 24-hour rest periods. Unless your contract states otherwise the 24-hour rest period above should include a Sunday.