Compensatory Rest Breaks do not need to be 20 Uninterrupted Minutes for Sectors in which the ‘Special Case’ Exemption Applies

Tuesday 19th March 2019

In Network Rail Infrastructure v Crawford the Court of Appeal held that workers in some ‘special case’ sector jobs (e.g. security guards) are not entitled to the standard minimum 20 minutes uninterrupted rest break after six hours of work under the Working Time Regulations 1998.


Regulation 12(1) of The Working Time Regulations 1998 provides that when a worker works for more than six hours a day, he is entitled to a rest break of a minimum of 20 uninterrupted minutes.

Regulation 21 provides that workers in some ‘special case’ sector jobs (which includes some railway workers and offshore workers) are not entitled to the standard minimum 20 minutes uninterrupted break, but they remain protected by regulation 24 which provides that they must be provided with an ‘equivalent period of compensatory rest’ or to be given ‘such protection as may be appropriate in cases where this is not feasible.


Mr Crawford was a railway signal controller manning a single manned signal box over 8 hour shifts. The number of trains passing though his signal enabled short breaks during inactive periods to be taken which totaled in excess of 20 minutes, but as his duties required him to continuously ‘on call’  to oversee his signal no break was a continuous 20 minutes.

Mr Crawford argued that Network Rail had not complied with regulation 24 as by only allowing him shorter breaks they had not allowed him to take ‘an equivalent period of compensatory rest’  or afforded  him ‘such protection as may be appropriate’ in order to safeguard his health and safety.

Decision and comment

The finding of the Employment Tribunal which rejected Mr Crawford’s claim was overturned by the EAT. The EAT found that the compensatory rest must, as far as possible, amount to an uninterrupted break from work that lasts for at least 20 minutes and a number of shorter breaks were not sufficient to be equivalent.

The Court of Appeal however allowed the appeal and found that Network Rail had satisfied its obligations under the Working Time Directive. It held that the requirement of an ‘equivalent’ period under regulation 24 could not be intended to replicate the continuous 20 minute requirement under regulation 12. It outlined that the consideration should instead be whether that the rest afforded to the worker is of the same value to the workers wellbeing.

This case will act as reassurance for employers of  ‘special case’ workers whose work pattern cannot accommodate an uninterrupted 20 minute rest break.  An aggregation of shorter periods will be sufficient to satisfy the requirements of the Working Time Directive so long as it has the same value in terms of contributing to the workers wellbeing. Employers should ensure they have made a sufficient assessment of working patterns to ensure this is the case.