Employment Matters March 2019
DAC Beachcroft's Employment Matters focuses on some of the most interesting cases and events occurring within the Employment Law sector.
Published 14 March 2019
An employer is entitled to allow an employee, when they have been unable to take an uninterrupted rest break, to take a series of shorter breaks during their shift which, when aggregated together, amounted to over 20 minutes .
Mr Crawford was a signal worker who was employed by Network Rail Infrastructure Ltd (NRI Ltd) to provide relief cover at single manned signal boxes. He worked 8 hours shifts. As he was single handed he had to monitor his post at all times, including when trains passed through, and there was the potential for him to be called upon at any time. He could take short breaks during his shift but was unable to take the 20 minute continuous rest break due to the need to be “on call” throughout the shift. The short breaks he took in total amounted to more than 20 minutes.
As he was a railway worker, Mr Crawford, was excluded from Regulation 12(1) of the Working Time Regulations 1998, which contains the right to the 20 minute break. He was however entitled to an equivalent period of compensatory rest as provided for by Regulation 24 (a) of the Regulations. Mr Crawford brought an employment tribunal claim and argued that NRI Ltd had not complied with its obligations under Regulation 24 to provide compensatory rest.
The employment tribunal did not accept Mr Crawford’s claim; on the facts it found he was allowed and encouraged to take compensatory rest breaks. Mr Crawford appealed and the EAT held, in Mr Crawford’s favour, that only allowing shorter breaks did not amount to sufficient compensatory rest as required by Regulation 24. NRI Ltd appealed to the Court of Appeal.
The Court of Appeal considered the case and restored the decision of the employment tribunal. The Court held that Regulation 24 applied to only “special case” workers, who were excluded from Regulation 12. The Court did not find there was an intention to import a requirement for equivalent rest (i.e. 20 continuous minutes) from Regulation 12 into Regulation 24. The intention behind Regulation 24 was found to ensure that the worker had sufficient rest so that it contributed to their well-being. It would be a question of fact in each case as to whether the amount of rest provided by the employer was an “equivalent period” or not.
The Court of Appeal went on to reject an argument by Mr Crawford that NRI Ltd were obliged to send for a relief signal worker to allow for an uninterrupted 20 minute break. The Court found that as it had established that the period of compensatory rest under Reg 24 (a) did not need to be identical to the rest period required in Regulation 12, it was irrelevant that NRI Ltd could have provided such a break.
This case is welcome news for employers who have workers that that fall within the “special case” exemption in Regulation 24 of the Working Time Regulations. It means that workers, such as those in NHS Trusts or an ambulance service, will be able to take shorter breaks throughout their shifts if they are unable to take a continuous period of compensatory rest. An employer will still need to ensure that any rest is sufficient so that the worker does not suffer a detriment to their overall health. Employers may need to update internal guidance to manager and workers as a result of this case.