In the recent case of Crawford v Network Rail Infrastructure UKEAT/0316/16 the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) held that an employee should be able to take their compensatory rest break in one uninterrupted period, and that a series of short breaks cannot be aggregated to amount to the 20 minute rest period.
Mr Crawford was a railway signalman for Network Rail; his role included providing relief cover at various signal boxes, which were all individually manned. Mr Crawford worked an eight-hour shift and despite there often being only six trains per hour he was required to continually monitor his post for passing trains.
As a result, this meant that Mr Crawford was unable to take a continuous rest break of 20 minutes at any time during his shift. Mr Crawford was able to take shorter breaks of 5 minutes away from his workstation which together would have amounted to in excess of 20 minutes over the course of his shift.
Mr Crawford claimed that this did not comply with the Working Time Regulations 1998 (“WTR”) and claimed that he was either entitled to a 20-minute rest break under regulation 12 of the WTR or compensatory rest under regulation 24(b) if this was not possible.
The Employment Tribunal rejected Mr Crawford’s claim, and held that Regulation 12 did not apply because he was a ‘special case worker’. The Employment Tribunal also held that Mr Crawford had been permitted to take compensatory rest breaks, but that he had not requested the same.
Mr Crawford appealed to the EAT.
The EAT held in favour of Mr Crawford and found that adequate compensatory rest had not been provided and that the employer’s rest break system was not compliant with the WTR.
The EAT rejected the employer’s argument that on aggregate Mr Crawford had more than a 20-minute break and that this was actually better from a health and safety perspective. The EAT held that the length of the individual’s break is crucial and it cannot be open to employers to decide otherwise on the basis of their views in regards to health and safety.
Employers should be aware that although there are distinctions between a rest break under Regulation 12 and compensatory rest under Regulation 24 of the WTR, the basic principle of a break remains the same – simply that it must be ‘uninterrupted’.
If an employee chooses to remain at their workstation during their rest break then this is a matter for them, however, they must be given the opportunity to go elsewhere.
If during an employees rest break they are interrupted and required to perform a task, then the clock for the 20 minutes break would start again. It is, therefore, more appropriate for employees to be encouraged to leave their workstation