Compensatory rest break must be uninterrupted
Under the Working Time Regulations (the Regulations) a worker is entitled to a rest break if their working time exceeds six hours. A rest break is a period of at least 20 minutes, which the worker is entitled to spend away from their workstation. Some workers fall within “special cases” and are excluded from the entitlement to a rest break. However, those workers must be allowed to take an equivalent period of compensatory rest.
Mr C was a railway signalman, working on various single manned boxes on eight-hour shifts. The signalman had to continuously monitor his post and could be called on at any time to carry out his duties. He had no rostered breaks but was expected to take breaks when there were naturally occurring breaks in work, whilst remaining on call. Although none of the individual breaks lasted 20 minutes, in aggregate they lasted more than 20 minutes.
Mr C issued a claim in the Employment Tribunal on the basis that this did not comply with the Regulations. The Employment Tribunal found that as he worked in rail transport and his activities were linked to transport timetables and to ensuring the continuity of traffic, Mr C was a special case worker. He was therefore entitled to compensatory rest. It found that he had been permitted and encouraged to take compensatory rest breaks. It therefore dismissed his claim.
The Employment Appeal Tribunal disagreed. The fact that Mr C remained on call throughout any break would not in itself be sufficient for him to succeed in his claim. However, in order to be compliant, the compensatory rest break must as far as possible amount to a break from work that lasts at least 20 minutes. The EAT rejected the argument that a period of rest can be an amalgamation of different amounts of time, which together amount to 20 minutes. It therefore found that adequate compensatory rest had not been provided.
The essential element of both a rest break and compensatory rest under the Working Time Regulations is that the worker must have an uninterrupted single period of at least 20 minutes’ rest. An employee may issue a claim in the Tribunal if the employer refuses to permit the employee to exercise that right. If the claim succeeds, the Tribunal can award such compensation as is just and equitable in the circumstances.
12 January 2018
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