Working time: Rest breaks

Employers are required to allow workers a 20 minute rest break under the Working Time Regulations. Can an employer still fulfil this entitlement by breaking down more rest breaks of a shorter duration? A case at the Employment Appeal Tribunal has ruled that this is not lawful. The case was Crawford v Network Rail Infrastructure Ltd.

20 minute rest break

Kate Fretten, Partner in Frettens' Employment Team, explains how Regulation 12 of the Working Time Regulations 1998 is defined and should be applied. She says "The regulation provides for a rest break of not less than 20 minutes if a worker's daily working time is more than 6 hours. Regulation 21(f) applies specifically to a worker in Railway Transport and this states that the employee does not enjoy the protection of Regulation 12. Instead, under Regulation 24(a), the worker is entitled to an equivalent period of compensatory rest."

Continuously monitoring - during a break?

Mr Crawford worked as a relief cover signalman at various signal boxes in the South East. All boxes, excluding one, were single manned. Although Mr Crawford was not always busy, he was required to continuously monitor and to be on call to do things when trains were going through.

He could in practice, if he wished, take short 5 minute breaks from his workstation which would amount together to well in excess of 20 minutes over the shift as a whole.

However, on day shifts, it was not possible to have a continuous 20 minute break. The employer argued it could aggregate these shorter periods in order to meet the 20 minute break requirement. Indeed, it argued, this was more beneficial, from a health and safety point of view.

A proper uninterrupted break from work

Relying on Hughes v The Corps of Commissionaires Management Ltd, the Employment Appeal Tribunal held that the employer's system was not compliant..

In that case, the Court of Appeal held that there should be a proper uninterrupted break from work during a rest period and, so far as possible, that break should last at least 20 minutes. Otherwise it would not be an equivalent period of compensatory rest. It was important that, during the rest period, the worker was free from work.

A breach of Working Time Regulations

Kate concludes "As there was no opportunity on Mr Crawford's shifts for a single continuous break from work of 20 minutes, the Court rules that Network Rail were in breach of their obligations under the Working Time Regulations."

At Frettens, all of our solicitors offer a free initial meeting or chat on the phone to answer your questions. If this article raises issues for you or your business, please call us on 01202 499255 and Kate or Paul will be happy to discuss it with you.