Working time Regulations and Rest Breaks

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In Crawford v Network Rail Infrastructure Ltd UKEAT/0316/16, the EAT held that an employer is not entitled to add a number of short breaks together to meet the 20 minute rest break requirement under the Working Time Regulations (the Regulations)

If a worker’s time at work is longer than 6 hours in a day, the Regulations state the need for a rest break of at least 20 minutes. Special case workers, including those in railway transport are not afforded the same protection. However, they are entitled to an “equivalent period of compensatory rest”.

In this case the Claimant, Mr Crawford, was employed as a relief cover signalman and worked at a number of signal boxes, of which most were single manned. Although he was not always busy, Mr Crawford was required to ensure that the signals were continuously monitored and to be on call to carry out duties when trains were passing.

On a normal day shift, it was not possible to take a continuous 20 minute break, but if Mr Crawford wished, he could take shorter 5 minute breaks throughout the day (whilst being on call). These shorter breaks would amount to longer than 20 minutes, in total. The employer argued that this was compliant with the Regulations.

The EAT held that this system of taking shorter breaks was not compliant. The EAT held that a rest period should be uninterrupted and last at least 20 minutes. If this did not happen, then the break could not be considered an equivalent period of compensatory rest.

As there was no opportunity for Mr Crawford to take a continuous break of 20 minutes then the employer, Network Rail, was in breach of the Regulations.

Written by
Rachael Jessop
7th February 2018