Rest breaks at work
Workers are entitled to a rest break if their working day consists of more than six hours. A rest break is at least a 20 minutes break where the worker is entitled to spend time away from their workstation. The worker should not be interrupted during the rest break and should also know when they can take it in advance.
There are exceptions to this general rest break rule as practically it can be difficult sometimes to fix breaks in advance. Therefore, jobs which require continuous performance such as is the case with the police, the armed forces, prison guards and jobs in the transport sector are treated as exempt or as special cases. In cases such as these, employers have to provide an equivalent period ofrest.
In Network Rail v Crawford the Court of Appeal ruled that a series of short breaks while being on call amounted to an equivalent period of rest. In this case it was impossible for the claimant to take a full 20-minute uninterrupted rest break as his job as a railway signalman required him to constantly be on call during his eight-hour shifts. He did however get lots of short breaks which together amounted to much more than 20 minutes. The Court of Appeal said equivalent did not mean identical and therefore shorter breaks equalling a longer period of rest overall was sufficient.
Top Tip: This decision could be helpful to employers who have shift or lone workers, but it is also important for them to consider their employee’s rights and ensure they provide for these properly.
In the above case Network Rail had conducted a rest break assessment which had concluded that there were sufficient naturally occurring breaks to enable the signallers to take compensatory rest. This evidence was helpful in the case as it showed Network Rail had properly considered the position.
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