Sometimes I have to stop and think how old I am and remind myself that I’m not in my 20s anymore. It’s not that age bothers me, I’m whatever age I choose to be, but because of the extent to which things have changed and how often I have to remind myself that the things I remember like they happened yesterday, happened way before some of my colleagues and clients were even born.

A couple of weeks ago, I was in an all day mediation with my client, who is a very experienced solicitor, and one of my trainees. The client made reference to a writ, which is a legal document we stopped using in 1999, so it’s something my trainee had never heard of, let alone used! To my client it’s perfectly normal, he and I both knew exactly what he meant. To my trainee, it’s a foreign language!

The reality is that things change and the more you can move with the times (whilst not necessarily forgetting all the things you’ve learned along the way) the more successful you are likely to be. When I first went out to work, an hour’s lunch break was just automatic – we talked about a lunch hour.  You might not have been paid for it but everyone got one. Now they are less normal, and according to recent research, even less desirable. With changes in working practices, particularly more flexible working hours, people would prefer to start later and/or leave earlier so that they can miss the rush hour or be around to take the kids to school, rather than have a whole hour off in the middle of the day, which they may find hard to fill depending on where their office is.

So, what are your legal obligations?

Well, if the contract says they have an hour for lunch, then they are entitled to take that time, but if they want to change it, and you are happy to agree, then this can be varied by consent. You should ask everyone who is affected for their input – but you don’t have to do the same for everyone. If some would prefer to start half an hour later and only take 30 minutes break at lunchtime, that’s fine so long as you are not forcing people to agree to changes, as that could be breach of contract.

You also have to treat everyone the same (even temps) which may sound contradictory to what I said in the last paragraph, but actually isn’t. You must give everyone the same choice and options, so that everyone has the same range of choices and criteria, but if they all pick different options, that’s fine, because you treated them all the same in giving them the same options.

What you can’t do is refuse to let anyone have a break at all. Depending on how long their shift is and what they are doing, they will have statutory rights to a certain amount of time off, or away from certain tasks. If you get that wrong or try to force them to agree to changes, it can start to be really expensive!

Hopefully that’s all useful information for you to consider next time you have a few spare minutes, but if you’re still not sure, then take a break and come and have a chat with me. I’ll help you fill in the blanks, at breakfast, lunch, dinner or just afternoon tea as we’re never too old to learn something new!

Kleyman & Co Solicitors.  The full service law firm.  Good advice never gets old.