Compensatory rest period must be an uninterrupted 20 minutes


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The EAT has held in Crawford v Network Rail Infrastructure Ltd that compensatory rest has to be taken in one uninterrupted period and that a series of short breaks could not be aggregated to amount to the required time.

Mr Crawford, who was a railway signalman for Network Rail, provided relief cover at various signal boxes, working eight-hour shifts. The requirements of his job meant that he could not take a continuous rest break of 20 minutes at any time during a shift (under regulation 12(1) of the Working Time Regulations (WTR) a worker is entitled to a rest break if their daily working time exceeds six hours).

Mr Crawford was a worker falling within the "special cases" exception under regulation 21 of the WTR which includes those working in rail transport whose activities are linked to ensuring the continuity and regularity of traffic. However, he was protected by Regulation 24 which provides that workers whose right to a rest break is excluded shall (a) be allowed to take "an equivalent period of compensatory rest", or (b) be given "such protection as may be appropriate" in cases where this is not possible.

Network Rail allowed rest breaks to be taken "between periods of operational demand when there are opportunities for 'naturally occurring breaks'". It provided that the 20 minute break could be an aggregate of short breaks taken over the course of a shift.

The EAT held that this practice was unlawful. It referred to Hughes v Corps of Commissionaires Management Ltd (No. 2), where the Court of Appeal held that an "equivalent period of compensatory rest" must have the characteristics of a rest in the sense of a break from work, and must so far as possible ensure that the period free from work is at least 20 minutes. It is the length of the individual break that is crucial and it is not open to employers to decide otherwise on the basis of their views as to what health and safety requires in a particular case.

Take note: Following the decision in Crawford there's no doubt, even for those falling within the "special cases" exception where a worker can be on-call during their rest break, that a worker is entitled to a single uninterrupted rest period of 20 minutes.       

This article is taken from HR Law February 2018.

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