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Uninterrupted Rest Breaks in the Workplace

Are Your Staff Members Taking an Uninterrupted Rest Break?

In the recent Employment Appeal Tribunal case of Crawford v. Network Rail Infrastructure Ltd UKEAT/0316/16, it was held that an employee should be permitted to take their compensatory rest break in one single interrupted period, and that a series of short breaks cannot be aggregated to a 20 minute rest period so as to ensure that the conditions in the Working Time Regulations are met.

Regulation 12 of the Working Time Regulations 1998 provides that all workers are entitled to a minimum of a 20 minute rest break if their daily working time exceeds 6 hours. In contrast, Regulation 24 provides that where a worker is excluded from these provisions (e.g. those working in rail transport whose “activities are linked to transport timetables and to ensuring the continuity and regularity of traffic”, they are entitled to an equivalent period of compensatory rest but at a time wherever it is possible to allow.

In the case of Crawford v. Network Rail Infrastructure Ltd, the EAT considered whether a railway signalman had been given adequate compensatory rest when he was permitted to take a series of short breaks while remaining “on call”.

The Claimant in this case; Mr Crawford was employed as a railway signalman working on single manned boxes on 8 hour shifts. Most of the signal boxes were single-manned and whilst there were only 6 trains per hour, due to the requirements of his job he had to continuously monitor his post and was expected to take breaks whilst remaining ‘on call’. This meant that he was unable to take an uninterrupted rest break of 20 minutes at any time during a shift. He was however permitted to take short breaks which, in aggregate, lasted substantially more than 20 minutes.

Mr Crawford claimed that he was entitled to a 20-minute rest break under Regulation 12 or compensatory rest under Regulation 24. The tribunal found that Regulation 12 did not apply as Mr Crawford worked in an excluded sector which meant that he was entitled to compensatory rest under Regulation 24 and that the employer’s arrangements were compliant with Regulation 24. Mr Crawford appealed to the EAT.

The EAT held in favor of Mr Crawford and found that inadequate rest was provided which was not compliant with the Working Time Regulations. It was further held that the length of a worker’s break is crucial and it cannot be open to employers to determine otherwise on the basis of their views as to what health and safety requires.

Whilst this case demonstrates that there are differences between a rest break under regulation 12 and compensatory rest under Regulation 24, it sends out a very useful message to all employers that it is essential that workers are afforded an uninterrupted single period of at least 20 minutes rest.

Should you require any further information, please do not hesitate to contact us on 0161 837 6844 or via email [email protected].