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Sejal Raja looks at a case which determined whether rest breaks need to take place over a continuous 20 minute period.

This question was considered in the recent case of Network Rail Infrastructure Ltd v Crawford [2019].

Working Time Regulations

Under the Working Time Regulations, a worker is entitled to a rest break if their daily working time exceeds six hours. A rest break is a period of at least 20 minutes which the worker is entitled to spend away from their workstation, if they have one. 

Some sectors — i.e. services such as gas, electricity, water and transportation — are treated as ‘special cases’, because individuals’ work often needs to be performed continuously. In those sectors employers need to provide an equivalent period of compensatory rest.

The Court of Appeal considered whether the rest break for workers in these sectors have to be taken in one uninterrupted period or whether a series of short breaks can be aggregated to amount to the requisite time.

Mr Crawford’s case

Mr Crawford, provided relief cover at various signal boxes, working eight-hour shifts. Mr Crawford’s role was such that he was unable to take a continuous rest break of 20 minutes at any time during a shift. However, he was permitted to take short breaks which together amounted to well in excess of 20 minutes over the course of a shift.

Network Rail allowed rest breaks to be taken ‘between periods of operational demand when there are opportunities for ‘naturally occurring breaks’.’ It specifically provided that the 20 minute break may be a number of short breaks taken over the course of a shift.

Mr Crawford claimed that this was in breach of the Working Time Regulations.

Court of Appeal

The Court of Appeal allowed the appeal, finding that adequate compensatory rest had been provided and that such rest did not have to occur in a block of twenty minutes. It restored the employment tribunal’s decision.

The Court of Appeal held that the rest provided to the worker should have the same value in terms of contributing to well-being and here is no reason why two fifteen minute breaks, for example, should not be as good as one twenty minute break. Different kinds of rest may be appropriate in different cases.

The Court’s approach in this case is extremely helpful for employers and provides flexibility in ensuring that workers still obtain their compensatory rest.

For further guidance or support on any employment or HR issues, contact our employment law solicitors.