The Working Time Regulations 1998 give workers an entitlement to various kinds of rest (including rest breaks during the working day). The Employment Appeal Tribunal case of Crawford v Network Rail Infrastructure Limited is a recent example of how these entitlements can apply - and be enforced by workers - in practice.

Basic right to rest breaks

Under the WTR, workers are entitled to a rest break when a day's working time is more than 6 hours. Various rules apply in relation to rest breaks, including:

  • There must be an interrupted period of 20 minutes (and cannot be made up of a number of shorter breaks).
  • If a worker is on call during a break, this will not count as a rest break.
  • The worker must know at the start of a rest break that he or she is on a break. For example,if a call-centre worker happens to have a 20 minute gap between customer calls coming in, this cannot be retrospectively treated as a rest break.

Special classes of worker

The rules in relation to rest breaks vary for certain special classes of worker. Young workers, for example, have an enhanced entitlement. Certain types of railway workers are also treated differently. These workers:

  • Are excluded from the entitlement to a "standard" rest break described above; but
  • Whenever possible, they should be allowed to take an equivalent period of "compensatory rest".

Background to the case

Mr Crawford was a signaller, and fell into the special class of railway worker for the purposes of the WTR. Usually six trains passed Mr Crawford's signal-box every hour, and he was unable to take an uninterrupted break of 20 minutes during his 8 hour shifts.

Network Rail told Mr Crawford that he could instead take shorter breaks during his shift - "between periods of operational demand" - albeit he would remain on call during these. Taken together, these shorter breaks added up to more than 20 minutes.

In some other regions, Network Rail provided a relief signaller (who travelled between signal-boxes) to allow signallers an uninterrupted break of at least 20 minutes. This was not done, however, in Mr Crawford's region.

ET and EAT proceedings

Mr Crawford raised Employment Tribunal proceedings for an alleged breach of the WTR. He argued that Network Rail's arrangement in his region was neither (i) a "standard" rest break, or (ii) an equivalent period of compensatory rest.

The ET found in Network Rail's favour. It held that although Mr Crawford did not receive a "standard" rest break, he did receive an equivalent period of compensatory rest once the short breaks were added together.

Mr Crawford successfully appealed to the EAT. Specifically, the EAT rejected Network Rail's argument that a 20 minute period of compensatory rest could be made by adding up various shorter periods of time. It held that compensatory rest must, as far as possible, amount to a single break from work that lasts at least 20 minutes.

The EAT also noted that the mere fact of being on call during a break does not mean that the break cannot comply with the compensatory rest requirements.

The EAT held that Network Rail was in breach of its WTR obligations as there was a way to provide Mr Crawford with sufficient rest - the relief signaller arrangement was used in other regions.

The importance of rest breaks

This case demonstrates the importance of bearing in mind workers' entitlement to rest when designing shift (and break) arrangements. If these entitlements are not taken into account, this could lead to Employment Tribunal claims (and, potentially, awards of compensation).

Users of Workbox, Brodies' Employment team's HR portal, can access detailed information on these entitlements and how to comply with them. Have a look at our "working hours and rest breaks" section here.