How much rest is an employee entitled to?

There is a common misconception amongst employers that an employee who works a “normal” working day (for example 9:00am - 5:00 pm) the employee is entitled to a “lunch hour”. We are often asked “is this paid or unpaid?”. The answer is that employees are not entitled to a “lunch hour”. Employees (and workers) are entitled to an unpaid rest break of at least 20 minutes if their daily working time exceeds six hours’. If the employee spends time at a workstation during their normal working day, this break must be away from their workstation.

In the recent case of Crawford v Network Rail Infrastructure Ltd the employer challenged whether or not the rest break had to be for a consecutive period of 20 minutes. The case involved signalman (Mr Crawford) who worked for Network Rail. Mr Crawford was not always busy although he was required continuously to monitor the signal boxes and to be on call to do things when trains were going through. His employer argued that he could take short 5 minute breaks which would amount together to well in excess of 20 minutes every 6 hours. Network Rail acknowledged it was not possible to have a continuous 20 minute break but argued that it could aggregate his shorter breaks in order to meet the 20 minute break requirement.

Network Rail even argued this way of working was more beneficial to Mr Crawford from a health and safety point of view. However, Mr Crawford said that his employer was in breach of the Working Time Regulations by not allowing him a rest break of 20 consecutive minutes.

The case went to the Court of Appeal who agreed with Mr Crawford. The Court of Appeal said that in order to be compliant with the Working Time Regulations the 20 minute rest break must amount to a break from work that lasts at least 20 minutes.

Employers must therefore be aware that an employee is entitled to an uninterrupted single period of at least 20 minutes' rest for every 6 hours worked.

Posted on: 10/01/2018

This article is for general guidance only. It provides useful information in a concise form. Action should not be taken without obtaining specific legal advice.

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