Lone workers can have their breaks spread over the shift and not in one continuous period

A Network Rail lone worker who claimed that his employer had failed to provide him with the rest breaks to which he was entitled has had his claim dismissed by the Court of Appeal.

The employee provided relief cover for absent colleagues at a group of signal boxes and complained about relation rest breaks under the Working Time Regulations (WTR) 1998.

He complained that regulation 12 stated that workers are entitled to a rest break of 20 minutes after six hours’ work. Typically, the rest break should be an uninterrupted period of not less than 20 minutes, and the worker is entitled to spend it away from the workstation.

All but one of the five signal boxes were manned by a single person, which meant that when the employee was working alone, he couldn’t take a single 20-minute uninterrupted break.

Network Rail carried out a full assessment of the lone working practices and concluded that the employee should ensure that his breaks were “taken between periods of operational demand, where there are opportunities for ‘naturally occurring breaks’”.

The Employment Tribunal ruled that the employee was able to take 20 minutes’ break over the course of a shift and that it was not practicable for him to be able to take one break of 20 minutes due to the nature of his duties.

Crawford appealed the decision at an employment appeal tribunal (EAT), arguing that “an equivalent period of compensatory rest” must comprise one period lasting at least 20 minutes.

The Appeal Court then ruled that the employee was “always, in effect, on call” during the daytime shifts in the week. This would prevent him from taking a continuous 20-minute rest break and that there was no reason in principle why a break had to be for an uninterrupted period of 20 minutes. This case has important implications for employers who have lone workers.

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