In this case, the EAT considered whether compensatory rest must be taken in one uninterrupted period or whether a series of short breaks can be aggregated to amount to the requisite time.
Mr Crawford was a railway signalman for Network Rail. He worked eight hour shifts. Because of the requirements of his role, he could be called on at any time to carry out his duties. He was not therefore able to take a continuous break of 20 minutes at any time during his eight hour shift. He was permitted to take short breaks, which together amounted to longer than twenty minutes. He was always on call during these breaks.
The Working Time Regulations 1998 require employers to provide a rest break of at least twenty minutes, during which the worker is entitled to be away from their work station. The Working Time Regulations also provide that workers falling within a number of "special cases" including those working in rail transport whose "activities are linked to transport timetables and to ensuring the continuity and regularity of traffic" are excluded from the entitlement to a 20 minute rest break. However, the Regulations provide that, in such cases:
·The employer shall wherever possible allow the worker to take an equivalent period of compensatory rest.
·In exceptional circumstances in which it is not possible, for objective reasons, to grant such a period of rest, the employer shall afford him such protection as may be appropriate in order to safeguard the worker's health and safety.
Mr Crawford claimed that the arrangement he had did not meet the requirements of the Working Time Regulations. He claimed that he was entitled either to a 20 minute rest break, or compensatory rest.
An employment tribunal rejected Mr Crawford's claim. It found that, because he was a special case worker, he was not entitled to a 20 minute continuous break away from his work. The tribunal also found that Mr Crawford had been permitted, and indeed encouraged, to take compensatory rest breaks. It also found that he had not requested, and so had not been refused, any different arrangements, at least not within the three months preceding the issue of his claim.
Mr Crawford appealed to the EAT, and the EAT upheld his appeal. Following previous case law, the judge said that a worker could be on call during a compensatory rest break. However, compensatory rest breaks must, as far as possible, amount to a continuous break from work of at least twenty minutes.
What does this mean for employers?
This is an unsurprising decision given the health and safety driver for our working time laws. However, this case is likely to be of particular concern to employers where the requirements of the job for some workers, such as paramedics or lone workers, mean it will be difficult to provide that they are away from their work station for twenty minutes continuously for a rest break or for a period of compensatory rest.