The Employee Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has ruled that, when it comes to compensatory rest periods under regulation 24(a) of the Working Time Regulations 1998 (WTR), the length of the individual break is crucial.
Under the WTR, when an adult works for more than six hours, they are entitled to a 20-minute rest period (regulations 12).
In Crawford v Network Rail Infrastructure Ltd, Mr Crawford was working as a railway signaller doing eight-hour shifts in single-manned signal boxes with no relief cover. While Mr Crawford had no stipulated breaks, he was able to rest whenever a natural break in the work occurred, effectively being “on call” during those down times. Altogether, his breaks added up to considerably more than 20 minutes, yet none of the individual breaks themselves lasted 20 minutes.
There are some exceptions to the rest break rule and in this case, an employment tribunal found it did not apply to Mr Crawford because he was a rail transport worker and therefore excluded from regulation 12.
Instead, he was covered by regulation 24(a), which provides that workers who are required to work during rest periods should be allowed to take an “equivalent period of compensatory rest”. The tribunal considered that Network Rail’s arrangements met the requirements of regulation 24.
Mr Crawford appealed on the basis that, for compensatory rest to be “equivalent”, it must include one continuous break lasting 20 minutes.
The EAT held that there were certain shifts where Mr Crawford had no opportunity for a continuous break of 20 minutes, but that it would have been possible for his employer to provide a relief signaller, thereby allowing Mr Crawford the proper break.
The EAT ruled that regulation 24(a) had not been fulfilled on those particular shifts, and that Network Rail had therefore been in breach of the WTR. The case was sent back to the ET to identify the shifts that were in breach and consider remedies.
The EAT stressed that the length of an individual break is critical and the clear implication for employers is that workers are entitled to a continuous break of at least 20 minutes. This is the case, even in situations where regulation 12 does not apply; the employer will be expected to do all it can to ensure a compensatory rest break of the same length is provided.