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Is it lawful for part-time workers not to receive paid breaks if the reason is that they are working shorter shifts?

Makbool Javaid, Partner - Simons Muirhead & Burton

In Forth Valley Health Board v Campbell, James Campbell was a part-time Phlebotomist who worked 16 hours per week on a 6-week rota. It was the employer’s practice that workers received a paid 15 minute break when they worked shifts of 6 hours or more. Campbell did receive a paid break when working 6-hour weekend shifts but not when working 4-hour shifts during the week. He argued this was unlawful as full-time workers received a paid break for all shifts that they worked. The tribunal at first instance agreed with him finding that the employer’s practice was less favourable to part-time workers who by definition worked less hours.

The employer appealed this decision. The Employment Appeal Tribunal allowed the appeal and dismissed the claim. It was held that the Tribunal had erred in law by focusing on Campbell’s part-time status as the reason for his being treated differently compared to full-time workers. It was an agreed fact that whether a paid break was given depended on the shift length in question, and the Tribunal made no finding that a causal link between part-time status and shift length existed.

This was demonstrated by the fact that he did sometimes receive the paid break. It was, in fact, possible for part-time workers to always receive the paid break if they worked longer shifts.

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