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In Crawford v Network Rail Infrastructure Ltd, the Employment Appeals Tribunal considered whether a railway signalman had been given adequate compensatory rest when he was permitted to take a series of short rest periods while remaining on call.

Working Time Regulations

Under regulation 12(1) of the Working Time Regulations, a worker is entitled to a 20-minute uninterrupted rest break if his or her working time exceeds six hours.

However, a number of special cases (regulation 21) are excluded from entitlement to rest breaks under regulation 12, including workers in rail transport whose “activities are linked to transport timetables and to ensuring the continuity and regularity of traffic,” (Regulation 21(f)). In such cases, regulation 24(a) provides that “his employer shall wherever possible allow him to take an equivalent period of compensatory rest”.

Short rest periods at work

Mr Crawford, a railway signalman, worked eight-hour shifts staffing signal boxes on his own. The requirements of the job meant that he was only permitted short breaks, which added up to more than 20 minutes over the course of a shift. He remained on call during the breaks. Mr Crawford claimed that he was entitled either to a 20-minute rest break under regulation 12 or compensatory rest under regulation 24(a).

The Employment Tribunal held that regulation 12 did not apply, as Mr Crawford was a special case and that he had been permitted short breaks equating to the period of compensatory rest.

Mr Crawford appealed. The Employment Appeal Tribunal allowed the appeal.

Following the Court of Appeal in Hughes v Corps of Commissionaires Management Ltd [2011], compensatory rest periods at work must as far as possible amount to a break that lasts at least 20 minutes, to meet the criteria of equivalence and compensation.

The EAT rejected a submission that Hughes could be interpreted to mean that rest periods can comprise an amalgamation of different amounts of time, which together amount to 20 minutes.

The Working Time Regulations, as interpreted by the Court of Appeal, mean that the length of individual rest periods is crucial. It is not open to employers to decide otherwise.

Uninterrupted compensatory rest periods

To avoid potential claims, employers should ensure that workers falling within regulation 21 are permitted, as far as possible, to 20-minute, uninterrupted compensatory rest periods during any shift exceeding six hours.

For more information Naomi Cubillo-Barsi in the Leeds Employment team by emailing [email protected] or calling 0113 368 6196.