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Case Law - Rest Breaks and how must they be taken?

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Crawford v Network Rail Infrastructure Ltd


Is an employer entitled to meet the 20-minute rest break requirement for workers under the Working Time Regulations by aggregating breaks of a shorter duration? The EAT in in this case said No!


Reg 12 of the Working Time Regulations 1998 provides for a rest break of not less than 20 minutes if a worker's daily working time is more than 6 hours – usually covered by a solid 20 min or 1-hour lunch break during a normal days work or shift.


In this case the relevant Reg 21(f) provides that a worker in Railway Transport does not enjoy the protection of Regulation 12. Instead, under Regulation 24(a), the worker is entitled to an equivalent period of compensatory rest.




Mr Crawford worked as a relief cover signalman at various signal boxes in the South East. All, except one, boxes were single manned. Although Mr Crawford was not always busy, he was required to continuously to monitor and to be on call to do things when trains were going through.


He could in practice, if he wished, take short 5-minute breaks from his workstation which would amount together to well in excess of 20 minutes over the shift as a whole. But on day shifts it was not possible to have a continuous 20-minute break. The employer argued it could aggregate these shorter periods in order to meet the 20-minute break requirement. Indeed, it argued, this was more beneficial, from a health and safety point of view.


EAT Decision


Relying on Hughes v The Corps of Commissionaires Management Ltd, the EAT held that the employer's system was not compliant. In Hughes the Court of Appeal held that there should be a proper uninterrupted break from work during a rest period and, so far as possible, that break should last at least 20 minutes. Otherwise it would not be an equivalent period of compensatory rest. It was important that, during the rest period, the worker was free from work.


Accordingly, as there was no opportunity on Mr Crawford's shifts for a single continuous break from work of 20 minutes, Network Rail were in breach of their obligations under the Working Time Regulations.


What does this tell us?


Ensure your workers have at a least a 20-minute continuous break and rest from work during their working time if they do at least 6 hours a day.


There are some exceptions (shift workers, young persons under 18 y/o etc) but the general thing to remember is You can say when employees take rest breaks during work time as long as:#

  • the break is taken in one go somewhere in the middle of the day (not at the beginning or end)
  • workers are allowed to spend it away from their desk or workstation (i.e. away from where they actually work)


It doesn’t count as a rest break if you say an employee should go back to work before their break is finished.


Unless a worker’s employment contract says so, they don’t have the statutory right to:

  • take smoking breaks
  • get paid for rest breaks



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