Working time - compensatory rest breaks
In Crawford v Network Rail Infrastructure Ltd, Mr Crawford was a relief cover signalman who worked eight hour shifts. Most of the signal boxes were single manned and although Mr Crawford was not always busy, he was required to constantly monitor his post.
This requirement meant that Mr Crawford was unable to take a continuous rest break of 20 minutes during a shift. He was, however, permitted to take short, intermittent breaks which together amounted to more than 20 minutes per shift, although he was required to be on call during any such short breaks.
Network Rail argued that this arrangement was arguably more beneficial to its workers from a health and safety point of view.
Mr Crawford brought claims in the Employment Tribunal alleging that this arrangement did not comply with the WTR. He claimed he was entitled to a full 20 minute break under Regulation 12 or alternatively he was entitled to compensatory rest.
At first instance, the Employment Tribunal rejected Mr Crawford’s claim. It held that Regulation 12 did not apply because he was caught by the "special case" provisions. In relation to compensatory rest, the Tribunal found that Mr Crawford had been permitted, and indeed had been encouraged, to take intermittent rest breaks. It also held that, within the last three months, he had not requested, and therefore had not been refused, any alternative arrangements.
Mr Crawford appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal. The EAT disagreed with the Tribunal and held that compensatory rest had not been provided.
The EAT relied on the case of Hughes v Corps of Commissionaires Management Ltd in which it was held that, in order to be compliant, the compensatory rest must, as far as possible, amount to a break from work that lasts for at least 20 minutes. In contrast with a rest break under Regulation 12, whilst a compensatory rest break must be 20 minutes in length, the worker can remain "on call" throughout that period.
As there was no opportunity for Mr Crawford to take a continuous break from work of 20 minutes, Network Rail were held to be in breach of the WTR.
The EAT rejected Network Rail’s argument that their system of numerous shorter breaks throughout the day was better from a health and safety perspective. The length of the break is crucial – it is not open to employers to decide otherwise based on their views regarding health and safety.
This case highlights that the essential element crucial to both Regulation 12 rest breaks and compensatory rest is that the worker must have a single period of at least 20 minutes’ rest. It is not open for employers to substitute this requirement in favour of their own preferences regarding rest breaks.
If you would like to discuss any issues raised in this article, we have specific employment law expertise in advising in this area. For further advice, please contact Kathryn Moorhouse on firstname.lastname@example.org or 0113 280 2231.
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