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Compensatory rest break for workers – EAT confirms it must be an uninterrupted 20 minutes

Written by Brabners LLP

In a recent case, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (“EAT”) considered whether the compensatory 20 minute rest break has to be taken in one uninterrupted period, or whether it could be taken as a series of short breaks. It was held that the former applied, and a worker’s right to 20 minute rest period must be for one continuous period.


Under the Working Time Regulations 1998, a worker is entitled to at least a 20 minute rest break where their daily working time exceeds six hours. The worker is entitled to take their rest break away from their workstation. In certain cases, such as for railway workers, it is accepted that their activities are linked to ensuring the continuity and regularity of traffic and that different rules should apply. In such cases, an employer should wherever possible allow the worker to take an equivalent period of compensatory rest. In exceptional circumstances, where it is not possible to grant such a period of rest, an employer should provide a worker with such protection as may be appropriate in order to safeguard the worker’s health and safety. In the case of Crawford v Network Rail Infrastructure Ltd the EAT considered whether a railway signalman had been given adequate compensatory rest when he was permitted to take a series of short breaks while remaining “on call” and available. Mr Crawford was a railway signalman for Network Rail who providing relief cover at various signal boxes that were mainly manned by a single person. He worked eight hour shifts. His role meant that he had to continuously monitor his post and could be called upon at any point to carry out his duties. The requirements of his role meant that Mr Crawford could not take a continuous rest break of 20 minutes during his shift, but was permitted to take short breaks where there were “naturally occurring breaks” which on aggregate amounted to over 20 minutes a shift. During these breaks, he did however remain “on call”. Mr Crawford brought a claim to the Employment Tribunal for breach of the Working Time Regulations. The Employment Tribunal rejected his claim, confirming that he was an excluded worker and had been permitted to take compensatory rest breaks in accordance with the legal provisions mentioned above. Mr Crawford appealed to the EAT.


The EAT allowed the appeal, finding that adequate compensatory rest had not been provided. The EAT confirmed that the fact that Mr Crawford was “on call” during these breaks was not enough for Mr Crawford to succeed in the claim. However, the EAT confirmed that the earlier case of Hughes v Corps of Commissionaires Management Ltd assists here – in that case, the Court of Appeal confirmed that an “equivalent period of compensation rest” must have the characteristics of a break from work and should, as far as possible, ensure that a rest break free from work is provided for at least 20 minutes. The EAT therefore confirmed that it was essential that a compensatory rest break should be at least 20 minutes long. The EAT found that, as there was no opportunity for Mr Crawford to take a single continuous break from work for 20 minutes or more, Network Rail were in breach of their obligations.


This case is an important reminder of the rules governing rest breaks under the Working Time Regulations. Even in special cases, where a worker is permitted to still be “on call” during their break, an essential aspect of a rest break is that it should be an uninterrupted single 20 minute period.   

Disclaimer: This bulletin is for general guidance purposes only and should not be used for any other purpose. This article is written by Brabners and reproduced with their permission. Brabners is a Limited Liability Partnership.