A recent decision by the Court of Appeal has clarified employers’ obligations in relation to compensatory rest.
In Network Rail Infrastructure Ltd v Crawford, the Court of Appeal has held that, where a worker’s normal entitlement to an uninterrupted 20-minute rest break is excluded by a ‘special case’ exemption, the equivalent period of compensatory rest that the employer must give, need not be an uninterrupted 20-minute break.
The legal requirements in respect of working time, including the rest breaks a worker is entitled to, are set out in the Working Time Regulations 1998. As a general rule, a worker who works six hours or more is entitled to an uninterrupted break of 20 minutes during their working day. There are some categories of workers who are excluded from this entitlement including:
- Workers in excluded sectors such as some rail, sea, air and road transport workers, offshore workers, police and emergency services;
- Workers with unmeasured time;
- ‘Special case’ workers, such as those engaged in security and surveillance activities, requiring a permanent presence.
The rules state that where rest periods do not apply, or have to be modified in special cases, the workers concerned must be permitted to take equivalent periods of compensatory rest and, where possible, the compensatory rest periods must be uninterrupted.
This most recent case involved a railway signal controller employed by NRI Ltd who worked eight-hour shifts. He had to continuously monitor his post, remained ‘on call’ at all times and therefore could not take a continuous 20-minute break during his shift. However, he was able to take a number of shorter breaks throughout his eight-hour shift which, in aggregate, amounted to substantially more than 20 minutes.
The Court of Appeal noted that given this was a ‘special case’ category, the ‘equivalent’ compensatory rest afforded to the worker should have the same value in terms of contributing to the worker’s well-being. The court observed that there is no basis in principle for the proposition that only an uninterrupted break of 20 minutes can afford an equivalent benefit – for example, two uninterrupted breaks of 15 minutes could be equally beneficial.