The Working Time Regulations (1998) outline a workers entitlement in relation to working patterns including the provision of rest breaks. Workers are entitled to 20 minutes away from their workstation if their working day exceeds 6 hours. There is an exemption in the regulations that allows an employer to provide ‘an equivalent period of compensatory rest’. This was recently tested at the Employment Appeals Tribunal in the case of Crawford v Network Rail.
Mr. Crawfod was a railway signaller who had to monitor signal boxes continually over an 8-hour working day. He was permitted to take short breaks away from his workstation which, in total, amounted to more than 20 minutes. It was not possible for him to take a continuous 20-minute break and he remained ‘on call’ during his breaks. Mr. Crawford argues this was in breach of the regulations. The tribunal disagreed, stating that Mr. Crawford was a special case worker who had received compensatory rest however at appeal this was overturned. The EAT stated that the regulations require 20 minutes of continuous rest. Although Network Rail stated that several shorter breaks could be more favourable for the employee and health and safety, the EAT maintained that employers cannot override legal requirements.
How to comply with your obligations
Unless exceptions apply, you must offer the following 3 breaks to workers as a minimum:
1. Rest breaks
If the working day is more than 6 hours you must ensure the worker has a rest break and that:
– the break lasts at least 20 continuous minutes
– the worker can leave their workstation
– the worker is not on call
– the break is not at the beginning or end of the working day
You do not have to provide extra breaks on top of this (for example smoking breaks), you also do not have to pay the worker for this break although most employers do provide a paid break.
2. Daily Rest
You must provide 11 hours of rest between each working day
3. Weekly Rest
You must give workers the right to uninterrupted 24 hours without work per week or 48 hours per fortnight.
In specific circumstances, there may be times where compensatory rest (that is the provision of equivalent rest but in a different way, for example, non-continuous break). You must consider the reasons why you cannot meet the working time regulations and whether it is likely that exception can be made. The case we have discussed however demonstrates that this is not always as straightforward as it may seem and you should always try to comply with the regulations in the first instance.
You should also consider whether more generous provisions are necessary for Health and Safety reasons. Remember that different guidelines apply for night workers and under 18s.
If you want to discuss your working patterns with us please contact us on 01325 288299.