168: Compensatory rest does not need to be an uninterrupted break of 20 minutes
Under the Working Time Regulations 1998 (WTR), workers must have a rest break of at least 20 minutes if their daily working time exceeds six hours (Regulation 12).
Workers are entitled to spend this break away from their workstation. Some categories of workers are excluded from this entitlement, including rail transport workers who are involved in ensuring the continuity and regularity of trains. However, these workers should be given an equivalent period of compensatory rest or, if this is not possible, appropriate protection to safeguard their health and safety (Regulation 24). In Network Rail Infrastructure Ltd v Crawford, the Court of Appeal considered whether compensatory rest for a rail worker had to consist of one uninterrupted period or whether a series of aggregated short breaks would be sufficient.
Mr Crawford was a railway signalman for Network Rail. He worked eight-hour shifts providing relief cover at various signal boxes, most of which were single-manned. Although there were often only six trains per hour, Mr Crawford had to be continuously on call to monitor his post. This meant that he could not take an uninterrupted rest break of 20 minutes at any time during a shift. However, he was allowed to take short breaks at appropriate times which together amounted to considerably more than 20 minutes.
Mr Crawford claimed that this arrangement did not comply with the WTR since it was neither a 20 minute rest break under Regulation 12 nor compensatory rest under Regulation 24.
The Employment Tribunal rejected Mr Crawford’s claim, ruling that he was a special case worker and that he had been both permitted and encouraged to take compensatory rest breaks as required by the WTR. The Employment Appeal Tribunal overturned this decision, finding that compensatory rest should be a continuous period of 20 minutes away from work.
The Court of Appeal has now restored the decision of the Employment Tribunal. Regulation 24 of the WTR requires compensatory rest to be ‘equivalent’ to the normal rest break under Regulation 12, not identical. Compensatory rest does not therefore need to be a continuous break of 20 minutes, but must have the same benefit for the worker’s well-being, which involves making an evaluative comparison. Mr Crawford was allowed to take a number of shorter breaks throughout his eight hour shift amounting to substantially more than 20 minutes in total. The Court of Appeal held that this was adequate compensatory rest.
This is a sensible decision which confirms that compensatory rest for special case workers must only be ‘equivalent’ to a 20 minute rest break, and that different kinds of rest will be appropriate depending on the precise circumstances. In this case, although Mr Crawford had to remain on call, he was able to rest for substantial periods of time throughout his shift and it was relatively straightforward to establish that his health and safety were not adversely affected.