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Compensatory rest break need not be uninterrupted
Network Rail Infrastructure Ltd v Crawford
Where a worker is entitled, under the Working Time Regulations, to ‘compensatory rest’ instead of a 20-minute uninterrupted rest break, the rest need not, in every case, consist of an uninterrupted 20 minutes, even if it would, in principle, be possible to provide such a break.
Regulation 12 of the Working Time Regulations 1998 (WTR) states that all workers are entitled to an uninterrupted rest break of at least 20 minutes if their daily working time exceeds six hours and are entitled to spend it away from their workstation. Regulation 24 states that where a worker is excluded from these provisions (e.g. public transport, medicine, etc.) or by a collective/workforce agreement and is required to work during a period that would otherwise be a rest break, his employer must allow him an ‘equivalent period of compensatory rest’.
Mr Crawford was a railway signalman working on single manned boxes on eight-hour shifts. He had no rostered breaks but was expected to take breaks when there were naturally occurring breaks in work whilst remaining ‘on call’. Although none of the individual breaks lasted 20 minutes, in aggregate they lasted substantially more than 20 minutes. He claimed that he was entitled to a 20-minute rest break under reg. 12 or compensatory rest under reg. 24. The tribunal found that reg. 12 did not apply - because Mr Crawford worked in an excluded sector (reg. 21) which meant that he was entitled to compensatory rest under reg. 24 - and that the employer’s arrangements were compliant with reg. 24. Mr Crawford had been permitted, indeed encouraged, to take compensatory rest breaks which in aggregate lasted more than 20 minutes. It also held that it would have been possible for his employer to organise a relief signaller to go between signal boxes, giving signallers the opportunity to take a 20-minute break. Mr Crawford appealed.
The EAT allowed his appeal. 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. The EAT rejected the employer’s argument that in aggregate he got more than 20 minutes and its system was actually better from a health and safety point of view than a system involving a continuous 20-minute break. The length of the individual break is crucial; it cannot be open to employers to decide otherwise on the basis of their views as to what health and safety requires in a particular case. Network Rail appealed.
Court of Appeal decision
The appeal was allowed.
Compensatory rest under reg. 24 need not in every case comprise an uninterrupted 20 minutes, even if such a break would be possible to arrange. The key question is whether the rest afforded to the worker has the same value in terms of contributing to his or her well-being; on the facts of this case, it did. The tribunal had noted that the evidence relied upon by Network Rail suggested that several shorter breaks, aggregated across the working day, would be more beneficial than a single, longer break at a certain point in the shift.
Link to judgment: https://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2019/269.html
In special cases (i.e. those workers covered by reg. 24), employers can comply with the WTR provided they allow workers to take frequent short breaks which in aggregate amount to 20 minutes or more. What matters is that the rest afforded to the worker has the same value in terms of contributing to his or her well-being – and here Network Rail could demonstrate this, having conducted a ‘rest break assessment’ which found that there were sufficient naturally occurring breaks to enable the signallers to take compensatory rest.
But employers whose staff are not treated as ‘special cases’ must continue to allow them to take uninterrupted breaks.