When is a 20 minute rest break not a 20 minute rest break?

When it isn’t a continuous 20 minutes.

Mr Crawford worked for Network Rail. The law states that all workers are entitled to an uninterrupted rest break of at least 20 minutes from their workstation if their daily working time exceeds 6 hours – Regulation 12 of the Working Time Regulations.

Some workers are excluded  such as those in public transport – like Mr Crawford, security workers and medicine. Their employers must allow an “equivalent period of compensatory rest”.

Network Rail told Mr Crawford he would be taking shorter breaks during his shift which would add up to more than 20 minutes. He complained and brought a claim in an Employment Tribunal. Whilst he lost at Tribunal, he won on appeal.

An employer can’t make up a 20 minute period of compensatory rest by adding up various shorted periods of time. It held that compensatory rest must, as far as possible, amount to a single break from work that lasts at least 20 minutes.

Crawford v Network Rail Infrastructure Ltd

What does this mean for you or your business?

  • Only those in specific sectors are entitled to compensatory rest but the principle of an uninterrupted break where a worker is not working applies to all workers.
  • There is no scope for an employer to aggregate shorter breaks when assessing if a worker has had sufficient breaks.
  • There may be practical implications where workers may be required to be on call during a rest break and unable to take a continuous 20 minute rest break.
  • If an employee is sitting at their desk and asked to pick up the phone whilst they are on their lunch, the clock for the 20 minute break technically needs to restart.

What do you need to be doing now?

  • It is important to consider workers’ entitlement to rest when designing break and shift arrangements in order to avoid potential employment tribunal claims.
  • It is important to identify any working patterns that do not allow a continuous 20 minute rest break.  Roles requiring continuous presence pose the greatest risk such as security, quality control, engineering and maintenance. If any non-compliant working patterns are identified alternative break patterns should be considered before any challenge arises.
  • Encourage workers to leave their desks and go somewhere else for their break so there is no chance of interruption.

If you are an employee, you can read about your rights to time off from work here.

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