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Employment Law Speed Read – 13/05/19

In Network Rail Infrastructure Ltd v Crawford, the Court of Appeal held that the right to compensatory rest under the Working Time Regulations 1998 (WTR) does not need to be an uninterrupted break of 20 minutes but can instead be a series of shorter breaks which total 20 minutes or more.

The facts

Mr Crawford was a railway signalman working on single manned boxes on eight-hour shifts. He had no scheduled breaks but was expected to take naturally occurring breaks during working time whilst remaining ‘on call’. The WTR provides that a worker is entitled to a 20 minute rest break away from their workstation where their working day is six hours or longer. However, under certain ‘special cases’, the rest break requirement does not apply, for example where the individuals’ work often needs to be performed continuously. In such situations, the employer needs to provide an equivalent period of compensatory rest. In this case, although none of Mr Crawford’s individual breaks lasted 20 minutes, in aggregate they lasted substantially more than 20 minutes.

The issue to be determined was whether or not this discharged the employer’s obligation to provide compensatory rest.

Employment Tribunal (ET)

The ET found that Network Rail had allowed Mr Crawford sufficient compensatory rest. He had been permitted, indeed encouraged, to take compensatory rest breaks which in aggregate lasted more than 20 minutes. Mr Crawford appealed this decision.

Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT)

The EAT allowed Mr Crawford’s appeal. EAT held that an ‘equivalent period of compensatory rest’ must have the characteristics of a rest in the sense of a break from work and must so far as possible ensure that the period free from work is at least 20 minutes. It determined that the length of the individual break is crucial; it cannot be open to employers to decide otherwise on the basis of their views as to what health and safety requirements are needed in a particular case. Network Rail appealed this decision.

Court of Appeal

The Court of Appeal restored the judgment of the Employment Tribunal, where it decided that there was no basis for finding that a period of compensatory rest had to be an uninterrupted period of 20 minutes; there was no reason why this should be better than, for example, two 15 minute breaks. The key question is whether the rest afforded to the worker has the same value and benefit in terms of contributing to his or her well-being; on the facts of this case, it did. The Court had noted that the evidence relied upon by Network Rail suggested that several shorter breaks, aggregated across the working day, would be more beneficial than a single, longer break at a certain point in the shift.


This is a reassuring case for employers, including those in health and social care, to which the compensatory rest provisions of the WTR apply, although it should be noted that that each case will turn on its own facts.

If you have any questions on the above and how it will affect you, please do not hesitate to get in touch with a member of our employment team.

Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

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