A rest break under UK Working Time Regulations does not need to be a single continuous period of 20 minutes

Summary

Regulation 12 of the Working Time Regulations 1998 provides that adult workers are entitled to a daily rest break of not less than 20 minutes where their daily working time exceeds six hours.

Additionally, Regulation 24(a) states if a worker falls within a ‘special case’, his employer shall, wherever possible, allow him to take an equivalent period of compensatory rest.

These ‘special cases involve a wide range of roles, one of those being ‘where the worker works in railway transport and his activities are linked to transport timetables and ensuring the continuity and regularity of traffic’. Recent case law, Network Rail Infrastructure Limited v Crawford highlighted this special category and confirmed that a rest break does not need to be for a single continuous period.

Facts

Mr Crawford was a railway signalman for Network Rail and due to the nature of his work, was unable to take a continuous rest break of 20 minutes at any time during his shift. He was permitted to take shorter breaks, which when put together, amounted to breaks in excess of 20 minutes.

Mr Crawford appealed on the basis that his employer did not comply with the Working Time Regulations. Mr Crawford stated that he was either entitled to rest under Regulation 12 or Regulation 24(a).

Outcome

The Employment Tribunal rejected the claim on the basis that Regulation 12 didn’t apply because he was a “special case” worker.

In the alternative, Regulation 24(a) did apply and had already been permitted and encouraged. Moreover, Mr Crawford had not requested any different arrangement prior to brining a claim.

Mr Crawford appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT): The EAT ruled that discontinuous periods of rest does not amount to compensatory rest under regulation 24(a).

Network Rail Appealed to the Court of Appeal (CA): They believed that the EAT had been wrong to hold that compensatory rests could not be provided through discontinuous breaks. The CA allowed the appeal. They held that such rest did not have to occur in a single block of 20 minutes. Additionally, the CA stated that the starting point should have been the language of Regulation 24(a) itself.

The obligation under Regulation 24(a) is to provide rest which is “equivalent” to Regulation 12 rest and not rest which is identical.

Implications for Employers

Rest taken which is at least 20 minutes long, albeit interrupted, is still considered to contribute to the wellbeing of the worker. It is important to note that different kinds of rest may be appropriate in different types of cases and so all employers may implement rest breaks slightly differently.

However, employers should be mindful that firstly, the special category of workers includes a wide range of job roles and more importantly, their workers who fall within the special cases category are not required to ensure that the 20 minute rest break is one continuous period.

Legal 500 logo

Investors in People logo

UK Chambers logo

Best Companies - One to watch logo