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Crawford v Network Rail Infrastructure Ltd

Napthens - January 31st 2018

All workers whose shifts last at least 6 hours are entitled to a rest break lasting a minimum of 20 minutes under Regulation 12 of the Working Time Regulations (WTR). During this time the worker is entitled to spend this period away from their workstation, should they have one. However, under Regulation 21, there are some exceptions to the rule. Workers who fall within a “special category” are exempt and can instead be offered an equivalent compensatory rest period. The full list of those who are exempt can be found here.

In the recent ruling of Crawford v Network Rail Infrastructure Ltd the EAT have shed some light on when employers can and cannot offer such compensatory rest breaks. Under the exceptions, workers in Railway Transport, whose activities are linked to transport timetables and ensuring traffic continues, are entitled to an equivalent period of compensatory rest, when a 20 minute rest break cannot be given.

Mr Crawford worked as a relief cover signalman where he typically worked 8 hour shifts and at times worked alone. Given the nature of his job he wasn’t busy often, with only 6 trains passing per hour. Notably, he was still required to continuously monitor and to be on call to deal with passing trains.

In practice, he was allowed to take short 5 minute breaks throughout the day. Often, this amounted to significantly more than 20 minutes per shift. Given the nature of his job, Network Rail contested that it was not possible to provide for a continuous uninterrupted break during his day shifts. They also argued that as a result of this they were entitled to aggregate those shorter rest periods in order to meet their statutory requirement.

Importantly, Mr Crawford raised a substantial grievance on the basis of him not being allowed to take a 20 minute break. Ultimately, both his grievance and appeal were rejected by Network Rail and they took no steps to make any changes to alleviate his grievance.

The EAT ruled that whilst some workers for Network Rail were entitled to an equivalent compensatory break, this did not apply to all workers within the company. As a consequence Network Rail was not compliant with the WTR. The EAT found that it was important that during any rest period, Mr Crawford was free from work.

Best practice in this scenario would be to ensure that all workers, whose shifts last at least 6 hours, receive a sufficient rest break. It is important that any rest break provides an uninterrupted break from work and should last for at least 20 minutes. Where a worker is covered by the exceptions you should ensure, so far as possible that they receive a compensatory rest period in place of their 20 minute entitlement.

If you would like any assistance with managing your workers rest break period or would simply like more information on this case, then please don’t hesitate to contact a member of the team.