Court of Appeal: compensatory rest breaks do not need to be continuous19/03/19
The Court of Appeal’s decision in Network Rail Infrastructure Ltd v Crawford  concerns a worker’s entitlement to a 20 minute rest break when their working day is longer than six hours. The decision will be of interest to all employers, including those in health and social care, to which the compensatory rest provisions of the Working Time Regulations 1998 (WTR) apply.
Regulation 12 of the WTR provides that a worker is entitled to 20 minutes away from their workstation (if he/she has one) where their working day is longer than six hours. However, under certain ‘special cases’, which are set out at Regulation 21, the rest break requirement does not apply. Instead, where possible, the worker should be allowed to take an equivalent period of compensatory rest. In this case, the work of Mr Crawford in regulating railway traffic as a signaller fell within Regulation 21.
Mr Crawford argued that he was entitled to a 20 minute rest break and that if the compensatory rest provisions applied to him, any compensatory rest should be for an uninterrupted period of 20 minutes.
Network Rail’s case was that it had complied with its compensatory rest obligations. It submitted that the entitlement could be satisfied by discontinuous shorter periods which amounted to 20 minutes in total. The working pattern of Mr Crawford was such that it allowed him to take ample periods of at least five minutes, amounting in aggregate to more than 20 minutes per day.
The Employment Tribunal had found for Network Rail but the Employment Appeal Tribunal had found for the Claimant.
Court of Appeal decision
The Court of Appeal restored the judgment of the Employment Tribunal. It found that there was no basis for finding that a period of compensatory rest had to be an uninterrupted period of 20 minutes; there was no reason why this should be better than, for example, two 15 minute breaks. There was no obligation that compensatory rest had to be identical. The pattern of work of Mr Crawford in the signal box allowed him to take periods during which time he had no tasks to perform and could leave the workstation (being the signal board and not the signal box itself). This satisfied the WTR provisions on compensatory rest.
This is a reassuring case for employers although it should be noted that the work pattern of Mr Crawford allowed for considerable periods of time when he was not required to operate machinery which was considered to amount to rest. The working pattern of each worker will dictate whether in ‘special case’ scenarios a worker is in fact taking equivalent periods of compensatory rest.
In exceptional cases where it is not possible to take any compensatory rest at all, the employer can still comply with its WTR obligations where it safeguards workers’ health and safety. To this extent, employers should ensure they have checklists and processes in place to check on the wellbeing of their staff where demands have been such that rest breaks have not been taken.
Whilst employers do not need to force workers to take their breaks, it is important that workers are aware of their rights and employers should seek to create an atmosphere where the taking of breaks is encouraged and, where possible, they are scheduled into work patterns.