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Rest breaks

The Employment Appeal Tribunal in the case of Crawford v Network Rail Ltd has considered rest breaks under the Working Time Regulations 1998.


The Claimant was a railway signalman for Network Rail, he worked 8-hour shifts providing relief cover at various signal boxes. As he was required to continuously monitor his post and could be called upon at any time to carry out his duties, he was unable to take a continuous rest break of 20 minutes during his shifts. However, he was allowed to take a number of short breaks which altogether amounted to more than 20 minutes over the course of a shift (although he remained on call).

The Claimant brought a claim that the rest break arrangement did not comply with the Working Time Regulations 1998 (“WTR”) and he was entitled to a 20-minute rest break.

The Law

Under section 12 of the WTR, a worker is entitled to a 20-minute rest break away from their work station if their daily working time exceeds six hours. However, under section 21 WTR, those working in rail transport whose “activities are linked to transport timetables and to ensuring the continuity and regularity of traffic” are excluded from the entitlement to a rest break under section 12 (“special case workers”). Nevertheless, section 24 of the WTR states that special case workers should be provided with “an equivalent period of compensatory rest”.


The Employment Tribunal dismissed the claim on the basis that the Claimant was a special case worker and Network Rail had permitted him to take short breaks which was compliant with the requirement to provide compensatory rest.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal (“EAT”) however allowed the appeal. It rejected the argument by Network Rail that a compensatory rest break could be made up of an amalgamation of time and held that the short breaks were not adequate compensatory rest. It is essential that the worker has an uninterrupted single period of at least 20 minutes’ rest.


The case makes clear that a rest break must be for a single continuous period of 20 minutes and there is no scope for an employer to argue that various shorter breaks comply with the requirement even for those that are excluded from section 12 of the WTR.


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