Rest breaks

16 February 2018

Once an employee has worked more than 6 hours, they are entitled to no less than a 20-minute rest break. We look at the difference in rules for railway (and other) workers.

It has been confirmed in a recent case that you won’t comply with the law if you give your workers less than a 20-minute rest break. Under the Working Time Regulations 1998 you have to provide workers with a rest break of not less than 20 minutes once their daily working time reaches more than 6 hours. There are special rules for railway workers (and others) which mean that those workers have to get an equivalent period of “compensatory rest”.

Mr Crawford worked for Network Rail fixing signal boxes in the South East. He was not always busy, but he had to always monitor the boxes and be on call when trains were passing. It was not possible for him to have an uninterrupted 20-minute break, but he was allowed to take lots of 5-minute breaks which added up to more than 20 minutes.

Mr Crawford brought a tribunal claim. Network Rail argued that having shorter but more frequent breaks was better for his health and safety. The Employment Tribunal rejected his claim. Mr Crawford appealed to the EAT.

The EAT allowed the appeal, finding that adequate compensatory rest had not been provided. In order to be compliant, the compensatory rest must, as far as possible, amount to a break without having to do work during it, which lasts for at least 20 minutes. Network Rail were in breach of the law.

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