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Rest Breaks at Work

The Working Time Regulations 1998 state that a worker is entitled to an uninterrupted break of 20 minutes when daily working time is more than six hours. 

A rest break is a period of at least 20 minutes which the worker is entitled to spend away from their workstation, if they have one.

Workers falling within a number of “special cases” under regulation 21 of the WTR, including those working in rail transport whose “activities are linked to transport timetables and to ensuring the continuity and regularity of traffic” are excluded from entitlement to a rest break under regulation 12(1). However, in such cases, regulation 24 provides that “his employer shall wherever possible allow him to take an equivalent period of compensatory rest”.

In Crawford -v- Network Rail Infrastructure Limited the Employment Appeal Tribunal considered whether compensatory rest has to be taken in one uninterrupted period or whether a series of short breaks can be aggregated to amount to the requisite time.

Mr Crawford, was a railway signalman for Network Rail, working eight-hour shifts. Most of the signal boxes were single-manned. Although there were often only six trains an hour, the signalman had to continuously monitor his post and could be called upon at any time to carry out his duties.

The requirements of his job meant that Mr Crawford was unable to take a continuous rest break of 20 minutes at any time during a shift. He was permitted to take short breaks which together amounted to well in excess of 20 minutes over the course of a shift. He was however always on call during these breaks.

Mr Crawford claimed that this arrangement did not comply with the WTR. He claimed that he was entitled either to a 20 minute rest break under regulation 12, or compensatory rest under regulation 24(a) of the WTR. 

An employment tribunal rejected Mr Crawford’s claim. It found that regulation 12 did not apply, because he was a special case worker. With regard to regulation 24(a), it found that Mr Crawford had been permitted, and indeed encouraged, to take compensatory rest breaks. 

Mr Crawford appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal.

The EAT allowed the appeal, finding that adequate compensatory rest had not been provided.

The EAT rejected Network Rail’s contention that their system worked better from a health and safety perspective than a system involving a continuous 20 minute break. The WTR, as interpreted by the Court of Appeal in the case of Hughes v Corps of Commissionaires Management Ltd, mean that the length of the individual break is crucial. It is not open to employers to decide otherwise on the basis of their views as to what health and safety requires.

This case illustrates that, while there are differences between a rest break under regulation 12 and compensatory rest under regulation 24 the essential element crucial to both is that the worker must have an uninterrupted single period of at least 20 minutes’ rest.

If you need help and advice regarding Working Time Regulations please do not hesitate to contact me or the employment team on 0113 350 4030 or at hello@scesolicitors.co.uk.

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SCE Solicitors is a boutique employment law and dispute resolution practice based in Leeds which advises clients nationwide.  Please note that the information in this blog is to provide information of general interest in a summary manner and should not be construed as individual legal advice. Readers should consult with SCE Solicitors or other professional counsel before acting on the information contained here.

Emma Roberts
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Emma Roberts

Emma is a trainee solicitor at SCE Solicitors. Emma commenced her training contract in September 2018 and is currently working in the employment law department assisting director Samira Cakali. Emma also assists in the running of the firm’s myHR service where she can support you in the day-to-day management of your staff.

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