Russell v Transocean International (rest periods)

18 Jan 2012

Considering that the premise of the Working time Regulations 1998 is very simple: that all workers and employees are entitled to breaks from work and paid annual leave, it is remarkable how much litigation this one piece of legislation has generated.

The Supreme Court has recently added to the pile with the case of Russell v Transocean International, in which the Court considered the meaning of "rest periods".  In this case, workers in the oil and gas industry had a shift pattern of two weeks working offshore followed by two weeks onshore.  The workers argued that their annual leave should encompass leave from the offshore work, while the company said the time spent onshore was still "working time", irrespective of whether the workers were in fact working during that period.

The Supreme Court agreed with the company and said that it was entitled to insist that the workers took their annual leave during the periods when they were onshore.

Although the facts of this do not apply to too many employers in the UK, the broader question of whether an employer can insist on an employee taking annual leave even if they would not have been working has much wider implications.  For example, a factory that has a summer shutdown period or, perhaps more seasonally, shuts down over Christmas, can insist that employees and workers take that time out of their annual leave.