Compensatory rest does not have to be a single uninterrupted 20-minute break

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The Law

Adult workers under the Working Time Regulations 1998 are entitled to a rest period after 6 hours of work. This period and its length will normally be agreed by the employer but in the absence of such an agreement the period should be at least 20 minutes, and this should be uninterrupted.

There are, however, job roles that are excluded from this including hospital workers, prison workers and airport workers.

Where excluded the employer must ‘wherever possible’ allow the workers to take ‘an equivalent period of compensatory rest’ or provide them ‘such protection as may be appropriate in order to safeguard’ their health and safety.

The Facts

The Claimant, Mr Crawford, worked for National Rail as a signal controller. He would usually work 8-hour shifts at single-manned signal boxes and the role required his permanent attention. When working alone he wasn’t permitted to take a 20-minute uninterrupted break. Network Rail argued that he would take frequent 5/10/15 minute breaks at quieter times, which overall gave Mr Crawford more than 20 minutes rest during each shift. Whilst the Claim was initially rejected by the Tribunal, the Claimant successfully appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal. National Rail then appealed to the Court of Appeal.

The Decision

The Court of Appeal agreed with the Tribunal at the first instance. It decided ‘equivalent’ meant that the rest given should be of the same value in its contribution to well-being as an uninterrupted 20-minute break, but not necessarily identical.

This means two or three 10-minute breaks may be deemed ‘equivalent’ rest. What is deemed appropriate rest will be determined on the facts of each individual case.