Under the Working Time Regulations 1998 (WTR), workers are entitled to an uninterrupted break of 20 minutes, on days that they work 6 hours or more. If it is not possible for the worker to take this break, and they are what the WTR refer to as a ‘special case’ worker, the employer can avoid breaching the WTR by giving the worker an equivalent period of compensatory rest. Special case workers include those engaged in security and surveillance activities (such as security cards and care takers), workers whose activities involve the need for continuity of service, such as medical staff in hospitals, and those who work at airports or in telecommunications, and some rail transport workers.
The issue that arose in the recent case of Crawford v Network Rail Infrastructure Ltd (2017), was whether a number of shorter breaks, adding up to 20 minutes over the course of the day, could amount to adequate compensatory rest. The Employment Appeal Tribunal held that the period of compensatory rest must, as far as possible, be a continuous, uninterrupted 20 minute period. Network Rail’s argument, that many shorter breaks were actually better from a health and safety point of view, was irrelevant. In this particular case, it was possible for the employer to give the worker the required rest by providing relief staff.
Employers should review their arrangements for workers’ rest breaks, as workers can bring a claim against their employer in the Employment Tribunal if the employer has failed to allow them to exercise their rights to rest breaks. If a claim succeeds, the Tribunal can award the employee such compensation as is just and equitable in all the circumstances.
If you would like to talk through a situation you are dealing with, or if you need advice on any aspect of employment law, please contact any member of the Pure Employment Law team (01243 836840 or [email protected]).