Can an employer aggregate shorter rest breaks to meet the Working Time Regulations?

The recent case of Crawford v Network Rail Infrastructure Ltd has clarified whether employers can allow workers to take several shorter breaks rather than one longer break.

Mr Crawford was a railway signalman working on single manned boxes on eight-hour shifts. He had no rostered breaks but was expected to take breaks when there were naturally occurring breaks in work whilst remaining ‘on call’. Although none of the individual breaks lasted 20 minutes, in aggregative they lasted substantially more.

Mr Crawford argued that he was entitled to a 20 minute break under the Working Time Regulations 1998 (“the Regulations”).

Regulation 12 of the Regulations means that a where a worker’s daily working time is more than six hours, he/she is entitled to:

  1. Be away from his/her workstation;
  2. For at least 20 continuous minutes;
  3. During that period he/she is not on call;
  4. That period is uninterrupted; and
  5. The break takes place during a shift when the worker would otherwise be working.

Although this Regulation does not apply to certain railway transport workers, including Mr Crawford, these excluded workers are entitled to ‘compensatory rest’. This is a slight technicality. The key point to note is that the EAT held that the break from work should last at least 20 minutes and that otherwise it would not be ‘an equivalent period of compensatory rest’. The EAT found that Network Rail was in breach of its obligations under the Regulations.

Employers should therefore be mindful that their staff are given sufficient breaks. The length of the individual break is crucial: smaller breaks here and there are not enough. It is not sufficient to allow a break to be broken up into different sections (even if it adds up to more than the required time off) as the individual is entitled to a continuous break.

The law and practice referred to in this article or webinar has been paraphrased or summarised. It might not be up-to-date with changes in the law and we do not guarantee the accuracy of any information provided at the time of reading. It should not be construed or relied upon as legal advice in relation to a specific set of circumstances.

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