What Constitutes an “Equivalent Period of Compensatory Rest”?

Friday 19th January 2018

The Working Time Regulations (WTR) provide that, where a worker’s working time is more than 6 hours, he/she is entitled to an uninterrupted rest break of at least 20 minutes.  However, workers in certain specified roles are excluded from that provision and in circumstances where those workers are required to work during a period which would otherwise be a rest break, the WTR provide that they are entitled to “an equivalent period of compensatory rest”.  It fell to the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) in Crawford v Network Rail Infrastructure Limited to consider the features of “an equivalent period of compensatory rest”.

Mr Crawford worked 8-hour shifts as a railway signalman for Network Rail.  He had no rostered breaks but was expected to take breaks when there were naturally occurring breaks in his work, during which time he remained on call.  He brought a claim in the Employment Tribunal (ET) against Network Rail, arguing that the breaks he was allowed were insufficient.

In rejecting the claim, the ET first found that Mr Crawford’s role was such to entitle him to “an equivalent period of compensatory rest”, then concluded that the breaks he was allowed fell within that definition, largely because their aggregate duration exceeded 20 minutes in any given shift.  Mr Crawford appealed on the basis that “an equivalent period of compensatory rest” must comprise one period of at least 20 minutes.

The EAT allowed Mr Crawford’s appeal, holding that if a period of rest is to be properly described as “equivalent” and “compensatory”, it must have the characteristics of the period of rest it is equivalent to and compensating for, one such characteristic being its uninterrupted duration.  Therefore the EAT agreed with Mr Crawford that he should be given one period of at least 20 minutes rather than several shorter breaks.

Comment:      This case emphasises the importance of employers ensuring that their workers are able to take adequate breaks, and confirmed that, where a worker’s break is interrupted, he is entitled to begin his break again following the interruption.   However, the EAT did also note that, in circumstances where a worker entitled to “an equivalent period of compensatory rest” is on call during his break, this does not automatically render the break insufficient; it is the length of the break which is important.