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Is a worker entitled to a 20 minute continuous rest break?

View profile for Chris Amys
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Under the Working Time Regulations 1998, workers are entitled to a rest break when they work more than 6 hours. The length of the rest break is an uninterrupted period of not less than 20 minutes.

The case of Crawford v Network Rail recently looked specifically at the issue over rest breaks, namely whether a rest break must be continuous period of time, namely at least 20 continuous minutes, or whether you can amalgamate periods of rest which collectively amount to at least 20 minutes.

Mr Crawford worked as a signalman for Network Rail. He worked 8 hour shifts, working mainly at single-manned signal boxes. Although Mr Crawford had the opportunity to take lots of breaks between trains, approximately 5-10 minutes, he was never able to take a continuous rest break of 20 minutes. However, Mr Crawford’s breaks together amounted to well in excess of 20 minutes.

Mr Crawford submitted a formal grievance to Network Rail, which was rejected, as was the appeal. Therefore no action was taken by Network Rail.

The argument put to the Employment Appeal Tribunal by Mr Crawford was that this did not comply with the Working Time Regulations, namely that he did not get an uninterrupted continuous rest break of 20 minutes, because even though he had breaks of approximately 5-10 minutes, he was always on call and had to be readily available, such as having to signal a late running train.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal accepted Mr Crawford’s argument and found Network Rail to have breached the Working Time Regulations. They also rejected Network Rail’s counter argument that the system of amalgamating rest breaks was better from a health and safety perspective, as the length of at least 20 minutes uninterrupted rest is crucial and it is not open to employers to decide what health and safety requires.

The case has been sent back to the Employment Tribunal to determine remedy.

This case is a useful reminder to employers that workers must have an uninterrupted rest break of at least 20 minutes when working more than 6 hours. The rest break of at least 20 minutes therefore cannot be amalgamated from different rest breaks.

If you require any advice or assistance, in particular with rest breaks and the Working Time Regulations, please do not hesitate to contact Sally Morris at or on 01905 610410.