What is a “coffee break” worth, if not taken?
Workers that render their services during a continuous working day exceeding six hours are entitled to a break of no less than fifteen minutes. The Workers’ Statute establishes the provision in article 34.4. This short rest period is known in Spain as a “coffee break”.
Depending on the collective bargaining agreement and employment contract, the break may be considered as effective working time. However, in certain cases, a company’s production planning does not allow for its workers to take the break. This is when the problem arises of how to compensate not being able to take a break and how to quantify it.
Until now, it was common in many companies to quantify compensation for a coffee break in the same way as overtime.
In a judgment given on December 12, 2015, the Supreme Court conclusively resolved the issue by clearly ruling against the criteria observed in the same case by the National Court on July 2, 2015, which considered compensation for a break as overtime.
In reaching its conclusion, the National Court considered that if a worker was unable to take a break at such time, his/her hours should be increased in comparison to the workers that did have a break. Therefore, by increasing the hours, the required compensation should be the same as for overtime.
The Supreme Court corrected the National Court’s criteria by stating that the compensation for a “coffee break” not taken could not be the same as overtime.
Although it is true that the worker’s “actual” working hours without a break exceed those of the other workers, the additional hours do not become overtime, given that the hours effectively worked do not exceed the annual amount established in the collective bargaining agreement (in the case at hand, 1720/1728 hours per year, depending on the type of position).
It could be said that a worker unable to take a break is at a disadvantage with respect to those that do, even if he/she does not exceed the maximum number of annual working hours. However, the Supreme Court points out that, although the value of the compensation cannot be the same as that of an overtime hour, as claimed by the plaintiffs, nor can it be the same as an ordinary hour. The value must therefore be according to the applicable collective bargaining agreement salary tables, which show that time worked instead of taking a break is paid at a higher rate than ordinary working hours.
In conclusion, the Supreme Court maintains the restrictive criteria it often applies to overtime, but it should also be taken into account that the applicable collective bargaining agreement provides for compensation for work performed in lieu of a break that is higher than that paid for ordinary hours, even though the amount does not reach that of authentic overtime.