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Home / News and Insights / Insights / Compensatory rest break must be a single continuous period of at least 20 minutes

In Crawford v Network Rail Infrastructure Ltd, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) considered whether allowing a rail worker to take a series of short breaks whilst remaining on call amounted to adequate compensatory rest.

Under the Working Time Regulations 1998 (WTR), most workers whose daily working time exceeds six hours are entitled to a rest break of at least 20 minutes away from their workstation (regulation 12). Some workers are excluded from this entitlement, including rail transport workers whose ‘activities are linked to transport timetables and to ensuring the continuity and regularity of traffic’ (regulation 21). However, in such cases, workers must be allowed to take an equivalent period of compensatory rest. If this is not possible, employers must provide appropriate protection to safeguard workers’ health and safety.

Mr Crawford worked as a relief cover signalman at various signal boxes where he typically worked eight hour shifts, usually alone. There were often only six trains per hour, but he was required to be at his post and on call at all times. This meant that he could not take a continuous rest break of 20 minutes. Instead he was allowed to take a series of short breaks, which in practice amounted to significantly more than 20 minutes per shift, although he had to remain on call during those breaks.

Mr Crawford brought a claim in the Employment Tribunal alleging that this arrangement did not comply with the requirement for a 20 minute rest break or compensatory rest under the WTR.

The Employment Tribunal rejected his claim, ruling that, as a rail worker, he was not entitled to a 20 minute break, but that Network Rail’s arrangement for providing equivalent compensatory rest was appropriate. Mr Crawford appealed to the EAT.

Allowing his appeal, the EAT held that, in order to meet the WTR requirement for equivalence, both a rest break and compensatory rest must amount to an uninterrupted period of at least 20 minutes. The EAT rejected Network Rail’s argument that aggregating shorter rest periods met the requirements of the WTR and that this was more beneficial from a health and safety perspective. The EAT also confirmed that although compensatory rest must be a break from work, Mr Crawford’s claim could still succeed despite the requirement for him to remain on call throughout.

This decision confirms that a compensatory rest break must be a continuous period of at least 20 minutes, leaving no room for employers to argue that a series of shorter breaks meets health and safety requirements. In addition, as the Court of Appeal ruled in the 2011 case of Hughes v Corps of Commissionaires Management Ltd, compensatory rest must have the characteristics of a break from work, but this does not necessarily mean that a worker cannot be on call during that break.

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