Breaks at Work

Employers need to make sure that all their employees receive the breaks and rest periods they are entitled to under the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 or else face having to pay compensation awards and fines.

The Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 is a very important piece of employment legislation that governs a number of the fundamentals of the employment relationship such as leave entitlement, maximum working hours, rest periods and breaks.

  • Employees are entitled to a break of 15 minutes when they are scheduled to work more than 4.5 hours and 30 minutes if scheduled to work 6 hours or more (which may include the initial 15 minute break).
  • Shop employees who work more than 6 hours and whose hours of work include 11.30am – 2.30pm are entitled to an one hour consecutive break during these hours.
  • Employees are entitled to 11 consecutive hours of rest in any 24 hour period as well as one complete 24 hour period of rest in any period of 7 days, which must be preceded by an 11 hour daily rest period. However, it is permissible to give two 24 hour rest periods in a week following one in which the 24 hour rest period was not available.
  • Where employees work patterns that are covered under exemptions in the working time legislation such as shift working and split shifts, or when unforeseen circumstances occur appropriate compensatory rest and breaks must be provided.
  • Employees must be informed of their break entitlements and the procedure to follow in the event that they are unable to take a scheduled break.
  • Employers must retain records and be able to show proof that employees are working within specified limits and availing of appropriate breaks.
  • Breaks do not need to be paid legally but any custom and practice that has developed in this respect will be binding.
  • Finally it is important for employers to realise that in respect of breaches under the Working Time Act a Rights Commissioner has the power to award compensation that is just and equitable, of up to two years remuneration and the onus will be on employers to prove that they are complying with the legislation.