Breaks & Rest Entitlements When Working

This article outlines a quick summary of the key provisions that apply in respect of employees’ entitlements to breaks and rest periods when working, and in particular it must be stressed that records to support that breaks are being taken are required . A recent WRC decision awarded €1k compensation to a retail employee, when it was determined their records were inadequate.

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 11.30 am – 2.30 pm 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. (An adjudication Officer determined in a recent case involving a retail assistant in a bookmakers, that EPOS records were not proof that an employee was on a break when not logged in on the system. The complainant had argued that she spent a lot of time interacting with customers which was not reflected in the EPOS records but was working time. Ref ADJ – 00016952)
  • Breaks do not need to be paid legally, but any custom and practice that has developed in this respect will be relevant.
  • Finally it is important for employers to realise that in respect of breaches under the Working Time Act the WRC 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. Employers are therefore required to ensure that they afford their employees their correcty break entitlements and can prove so.