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Rest And Meal Breaks

Published May 10, 2018 (last updated on December 4, 2023) | Adam Wyatt - Copywriter and Content Creator

Rest and meal breaks give employees a chance to recover, refresh and take care of personal matters during work hours. Rest breaks are essential to improving the health and wellbeing of employees and making the workplace a safer, more productive environment.

The length of time and frequency of breaks depends on the number of hours an employee works and their employment agreement. In some cases, an employer can place restrictions on work breaks if it is practical for the business, however the employer must give adequate compensation.

Understanding Rest And Meal Break Laws

Rest breaks (also known as a ‘crib break’) are usually paid breaks that range from 10 to 15 minutes and are part of an employee’s normal work hours.

Meal breaks are usually unpaid breaks that fall outside the employee’s normal work hours and are at least 30 minutes or longer. Any request to work during an unpaid meal break must be compensated for with overtime or time off from work.

In most cases, employees are allowed to leave the workplace for a meal or deal with other personal matters – provided they resume work on time.

Restrictions On Breaks At Work

Employers are entitled to pose certain restrictions on rest and meal breaks to meet the needs of the business.

Due to the nature of some workplaces, employees may need to be flexible in regard to their work breaks and accept certain conditions. These restrictions have to be within reason and related to the nature of the role or workplace itself. An employer cannot pose restrictions on work breaks without a good reason and the terms must also be in writing and agreed upon by the employee.

An employer can only pose restrictions on breaks for the following reasons:

  • if the employee has some duties that must be regularly monitored or performed during their break (ie. working alone in the shop and handling customer enquiries, responding to a medical emergency)

  • there are circumstances where the break may be interrupted (ie. handling a customer enquiry or responding to a medical emergency

  • the employee must take their break in a specified location for safety reasons or to manage certain work duties

Rest And Meal Break Policy

The rules of paid and unpaid breaks at work are flexible and can be negotiated between staff and employers. However, under the Employment Relations Act 2000, giving staff adequate breaks is part of an employer’s commitment to workplace health and safety.

For any employment agreement, the following must be clearly communicated to the employee in simple terms:

  • the number and length of breaks for working periods

  • any rest and meal break restrictions that the employee should know about

  • room for extra or longer breaks

  • whether meal breaks are paid or unpaid

  • if necessary, reasonable compensation for a reduction in rest or meal breaks

Is Your Business At Risk?

A company that does not give reasonable breaks or compensation is in breach of employment law and is putting their workers at risk. Workers who do not take breaks are more likely to become fatigued or stressed, which can increase the risk of work-related incidents, sick leave and employee absence.

It is good company practice to encourage regular breaks for the following reasons:

  • to improve workplace productivity, staff morale and retention rates

  • to boost the reputation of the company

  • to keeps the business compliant with meal break laws

  • to attract better suited and more qualified candidates in the future

Employers Who Do Not Comply

If an employee has good reason to believe they are not getting enough breaks or reasonable compensation, they should speak directly to their employer about the issue.

If an agreement cannot be reached, the employee may make a complaint with the Employment Relations Authority. Employers who do not provide enough breaks or any form of compensation are liable to a penalty imposed by the Employment Relations Authority, so it is important to ensure that this time is calculated correctly.

For advice on how to rest and meal breaks in the workplace, contact Employsure on 0800 568 012.

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