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Personal injury damages permissible for breach of WTR
Grange v Abellio London Ltd
Although a breach of the Working Time Regulations cannot lead to an injury to feelings award, compensation can reflect personal injury suffered as a consequence of the breach.
The Working Time Regulations 1998 (WTR) provide that, if a claim is well founded, a tribunal can award a compensation sum that it considers is just and equitable considering the employer’s default and any loss suffered by the worker. In a 2018 case the Court of Appeal held that damages were not recoverable for injury to feelings for failure to provide rest breaks under WTR.
In 2016 the EAT held (in a previous iteration of this case) that a claim for a refusal to permit rest breaks (via WTR, reg. 12) can be brought where the employer fails to provide for such breaks, even if the worker doesn’t expressly request them.
The case was sent back to the tribunal to assess compensation. While it’s clear that any such compensation could include financial loss, Mr Grange hadn’t experienced any. However, having heard his evidence, the tribunal found that the lack of rest breaks had had an adverse impact on his health, and awarded him £750 as compensation for the discomfort and distress he suffered as a result of his rest breaks being denied, due to an underlying medical condition.
His employer appealed, arguing that working time compensation could not include an award for personal injury, that Mr Grange had not produced evidence that provided a basis for the award and that the amount was manifestly excessive in view of the short period of the breach.
The employer’s appeal was dismissed.
Tribunals can, held the EAT, award damages for personal injury under the WTR. The 2018 Court of Appeal decision was not authority for the proposition that damages for personal injury could not be awarded for a breach of WTR. Rather that case focused on the award for injury to feelings, not personal injury damages. Moreover, since it is clear from EU authority that the object of the Working Time Directive is to protect the health and safety of the worker, it would be natural for the WTR to allow such awards.
The tribunal’s reference to ‘discomfort and distress’ did not mean it was an award for injury to feelings, but rather was directly linked to the physical discomfort Mr Grange suffered due to his medical condition.
Link to judgment: https://www.bailii.org/uk/cases/UKEAT/2018/0304_17_0810.html
Where a worker has suffered an impact on his or health as a result of a failure to allow rest breaks (or indeed because of any other WTR breach), this decision opens up the prospect of employers being liable for personal injury damages. In low-value claims, it would also appear from the EAT comments that medical evidence is not needed, and the tribunal will make a common-sense assessment of loss.