The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has considered whether a worker’s right to a compensatory rest break, under the Working Time Regulations 1998 (WTR), has to be one uninterrupted period of 20 minutes, or whether the time can be aggregated from a series of shorter breaks.

Crawford v Network Rail Infrastructure Ltd, EAT

Facts

The claimant, Mr Crawford, was a railway signalman who provided relief cover at various signal boxes, most of which were single-manned. As a rail transport worker he was a ‘special case’ category of worker under the WTR, meaning that he was excluded from the right to take a 20 minute rest break during shifts exceeding six hours. However, such workers are entitled to an equivalent period of ‘compensatory rest’ under the WTR.

Mr Crawford was permitted to take short breaks, which amounted to well over 20 minutes in total, during his eight-hour shifts, but he was always on call during these breaks. His employer, Network Rail, expressly provided that the break could comprise an aggregate of short ‘naturally occurring breaks’ between periods of operational demand.

Mr Crawford claimed that this arrangement did not comply with the requirements of the WTR, either for a rest break or for compensatory rest. His grievance was rejected by Network Rail. He brought a tribunal claim, which was rejected by the employment tribunal on the basis that he had been permitted (and encouraged) to take compensatory rest breaks. He appealed to the EAT.

EAT decision

The EAT allowed the appeal and held that adequate compensatory rest had not been provided. In order to be compliant with the requirements under the WTR, the compensatory rest must, as far as possible, amount to a break from work that lasts at least 20 minutes. It is not sufficient for the break to be an amalgamation of shorter periods of time. Unlike a standard rest break under the WTR, a compensatory rest break for ‘special case’ workers (such as those in the transport sector) can be taken while the worker remains on call.

Consequences

This decision confirms that the requirement under the WTR for workers to be granted compensatory rest cannot be amalgamated from shorter periods of time, since this does not provide the worker with a sufficiently qualitative period of rest when the worker is free from work. The requirements under the WTR are strictly interpreted by the courts and tribunals, and it is not open to an employer to decide that a discontinuous rest break works better in practice.