Court clarifies law on compensatory rest periods for workers

An employer must provide workers with a “compensatory” rest period when it’s not possible to offer the standard breaks as required by law. 

However, the compensatory period doesn’t have be identical to the standard break; it just has to be of equal value in contributing to the worker’s well-being. 

That was the decision of the Court of Appeal in a case involving Network Rail and one of its employees who worked alone as a signalman on eight-hour shifts. He had no rostered breaks but was expected to take breaks during quiet periods.

None of the individual breaks lasted the minimum 20 minutes required under the Working Time Directive, but in aggregate they lasted substantially more than 20 minutes. 

He brought a claim to the Employment Tribunal on the basis that he was entitled to at least 20 minutes’ uninterrupted compensatory rest.

The case went all the way to the Court of Appeal, which ruled in favour of Network Rail. It held that compensatory rest did not have to be identical to the standard break entitlement as long as it provided equivalent value.

There was no reason why a single uninterrupted break of 20 minutes would always be better than, for example, two uninterrupted breaks of 15 minutes, one-third and two-thirds through a shift.

 Case Details

[2019] EWCA Civ 269
CA (Civ Div) (Underhill LJ, Lord Sales, Asplin LJ) 05/03/2019

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