We don’t often see disputes over a worker’s right to a ‘rest break’. After all, the right is fairly modest; a 20-minute break if you work for 6 hours or more. However, the recent case of Crawford v Network Rail Infrastructure Ltd looked at the question of whether rest breaks have to be a continuous period of 20 minutes, or whether you could add together shorter periods of rest to get to 20 minutes in total.
Mr Crawford is a relief cover signaller. He normally works 8-hour shifts in a number of single-manned signal boxes across the south-east region. The nature of his role allows him to take short breaks from his workstation which, in aggregate, would add up to 20 minutes or more. However, he remains on call during these breaks and he cannot normally be away from his workstation for as long as 20 minutes at one time. Mr Crawford brought an Employment Tribunal claim, alleging that he was being denied his right to a proper ‘rest break’ under the Working Time Regulations 1998.
Having lost his case at the Employment Tribunal, Mr Crawford appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal. The EAT acknowledged that the normal laws relating to ‘rest breaks’ don’t always apply to railway transport workers. Nevertheless, such workers are still entitled to ‘an equivalent period of compensatory rest’. After reviewing decisions in previous cases, the EAT concluded that it was not possible for employers to add up shorter breaks to a total of 20 minutes in order to satisfy their legal obligations. Instead, it is essential that workers can take an uninterrupted break of at least 20 minutes. Because some of Mr Crawford’s shifts did not allow him to take such breaks, his employers were in breach of the WTR.
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This case reminds us that even seemingly large and sophisticated businesses can find themselves breaking our sometimes complicated employment laws. If you are wondering whether your working hours are lawful, please get in touch.