In two separate cases, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) and the Court of Appeal have both considered workers’ entitlement to rest breaks under the Working Time Regulations 1998 (WTR).

Network Rail Infrastructure Ltd v Crawford [2019] EWCA Civ 269

The claimant, a railway signalman, claimed that Network Rail was in breach of the WTR for not allowing him a continuous rest break of 20 minutes during his eight hour shift. Network Rail permitted breaks to be taken between periods of operational demand, but expressly provided that the required 20 minute break may comprise an aggregate of short breaks taken during the course of a shift.

An employment tribunal rejected the claim on the basis that the claimant was a ‘special case’ worker (rail transport), meaning that he was not entitled to a rest break under regulation 12 WTR, but was instead entitled to compensatory rest under regulation 24(a) WTR. The tribunal found that Mr Crawford had been encouraged, and permitted, to take rest breaks during his shift that usually exceeded 20 minutes in total. On appeal, however, the EAT upheld the claim on the basis that compensatory rest could not comprise discontinuous periods of rest but must last a continuous period of 20 minutes.

The Court of Appeal has allowed the appeal, holding that the claimant had been provided with adequate compensatory rest. The rest break did not have to be in a single block of 20 minutes. Under regulation 24(a), the obligation is to provide ‘equivalent’ rest rather than identical rest. The rest break should have equivalent value in terms of contributing to a worker’s wellbeing, and different kinds of rest may be appropriate in different cases.

Grange v Abellio London Ltd EAT/0304/17

This case concerned a claim that Abellio had refused to allow the claimant to exercise his entitlement to a rest break. His claim was initially dismissed by the employment tribunal, but upheld on appeal to the EAT. The EAT held that the employer’s refusal was not dependent on the worker making an express request for it to amount to a breach of the WTR (see our previous bulletin).

Following a remittal of the case to the employment tribunal, the claimant was awarded a ‘just and equitable’ sum of £750 as compensation for the discomfort and distress he suffered as a result of his rest breaks being denied, due to an underlying medical condition. On a further appeal to the EAT, the just and equitable award was upheld. The EAT confirmed that compensation for personal injury is permitted under the WTR and is not limited to pecuniary losses.

Consequences

Both of these decisions provide a reminder that the purpose of rest breaks under the WTR is to protect the health and safety of the worker. A worker must have the opportunity to take a rest break, or a period of compensatory rest (either continuous or discontinuous), and is not required to expressly request a break. Tribunals have wide discretionary powers to award compensation in cases where rest breaks have not been granted, and this may include an amount for any personal injury an individual has suffered in consequence of not being permitted adequate rest breaks.