Under the Working Time Regulations employees who are working more than 6 hours at a stretch, are entitled to an uninterrupted 20 minutes rest break.
However, these rules apply differently to those who are engaged in security or surveillance based work or work which requires round-the-clock staffing. For these individuals, the rules can be applied more flexibly on the basis that ‘compensatory rest’ is given which can be taken at a later date.
In the case of Hughes v Corps of Commissionaires Management (CCM) Ltd, Mr Hughes was employed as a security guard to provide 24 hour security, where he was one of three guards. On any one day, one guard worked the day shift; one the night shift and the other had a rest day. The security guards were provided with a kitchen area where they could take their breaks and were allowed to leave a sign on the reception desk indicating that they were on a break, but left a number on which they could be contacted on.
While it could not be guaranteed that their breaks would be interrupted, they could choose when to take them so as to minimise that risk. However, if a guard was interrupted during a break, he was allowed to start it again from the beginning. Mr Hughes complained to the tribunal, contending that he was not receiving the rest he was entitled to under the Working Time Regulations.
The Court of Appeal found that the CCM had not breached its obligations under the Working Time Regulations as, Mr Hughes was able to restart his break when it was interrupted, which counted as compensatory rest. The Court of Appeal found that because he could take his breaks in this manner, he had the opportunity of regular breaks, normally totalling more than the 20 minutes set out in the regulations.
Employers may not always be able to provide their employees with the standard rest breaks they are entitled to due to the nature of their business, e.g. care services and reception work. Where this is the case, employers should ensure that they are giving an equivalent period of compensatory rest to their employees.