The Court of Appeal has ruled against a railway worker who claimed that his inability to take a 20 minutes uninterrupted rest break breached his rights under the Working Time Regulations (WTR).
Under the WTR, workers have a right to a minimum 20 minutes rest break if their work lasts for more than six hours. However, workers whose work needs to be performed continuously, as it may be in key services, such as gas, electricity, water and transportation, do not enjoy this right but they must be provided with “an equivalent period of compensatory rest”.
The issue in the following case was whether the employer had complied with 20 minutes rest break requirement by aggregating breaks of a shorter duration.
The Claimant worked unaccompanied as a signal box worker for Network Rail. His role required him continuously to monitor trains and to be on call to carry out additional activities.
There were times on his shift when the Claimant was not busy and he could take short breaks which added up to well in excess of 20 minutes over the shift but he was often not able to take a single continuous 20 minutes break during his shift.
The Claimant brought a tribunal claim alleging a failure by Network Rail to allow him to exercise his entitlement to a continuous 20 minutes rest break under the WTR.
The tribunal ruled against the Claimant because, in practice, he could take several short breaks which exceeded 20 minutes when added together over the course of a shift. The Claimant appealed.
Overturning the tribunal’s decision, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) ruled that Network Rail’s policy of adding up shorter breaks to total 20 minutes was inconsistent with the WTR and that “an equivalent period of compensatory rest” must comprise one period lasting at least 20 minutes – otherwise it would not be equivalent.
Court of Appeal
Network Rail appealed the ruling to the Court of Appeal.
The Court of Appeal agreed with Network Rail that there was no reason why a period of compensatory rest under the WTR had to be for an uninterrupted period of 20 minutes; discontinuous periods were enough.
The requirement to provide compensatory rest is only engaged because the WTR provides that in the case of the kinds of work identified in the Regulations (activities which need to be performed continuously) an employer need not afford workers an uninterrupted minimum 20 minutes rest break. That being so, the description of the compensatory rest as “equivalent” cannot be intended to import the identical obligation. Rather, the intention must be that the rest afforded to the worker should have the same value in terms of contributing to his or her well-being. There is no basis in principle for the proposition that only an uninterrupted break of 20 minutes can afford an equivalent benefit.
In cases where the nature of the work is that it cannot be interrupted, and employers satisfy the requirement in the WTR for a rest break by offering a 20 minutes period of compensatory rest, employers are able to add up shorter breaks that total 20 minutes.
Crawford v Network Rail Infrastructure Ltd
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What this means for employers: