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Employee's Entitlements to Breaks in the Workplace

What are an employee's entitlements to breaks in the workplace?

From 1 April 2009, all employees are entitled to paid rest breaks and unpaid meal breaks under the Employment Relations Act 2000. They are entitled to:

  • one paid 10-minute rest break if their work period is between two and four hours;
  • one paid 10-minute rest break and one unpaid 30-minute meal break if their work period is from four to six hours;
  • two paid 10-minute rest breaks and one unpaid 30-minute meal break if their work period is from six to eight hours.

Where employees work for periods longer than eight hours, these provisions automatically re-apply for each succeeding work period.

The legislation allows employers and employees to agree on the timing of breaks. Where such agreement cannot be reached, the breaks should be spread evenly throughout the work period where reasonable and practicable.

The legislation does not define the term rest break or stipulate where breaks should be taken. The intent of a rest break is to ensure that employees have the opportunity for rest and refreshment and to attend to personal needs. The details as to how an employee's work might be managed and the level of connection they might to have with their work while on their rest break will depend on the type of job the employee does. For this reason, it is best that an employer and employee discuss how work will be managed during the break and where breaks can be taken.

If employees believe they are not being allowed to access the breaks they are entitled to, they should first raise the matter with their employer. If that is unsuccessful, they can approach the Department of Labour for mediation assistance, which offer a free and confidential dispute resolution service. Participation in mediation is voluntary and non-binding. However, if both parties agree, the mediator can deliver a ruling that is binding on both parties. If employees are union members, they can seek assistance from their union.

If the dispute is unable to be resolved, cases of non-compliance can be taken to the Employment Relations Authority.

More information on rest and meal breaks.


Date Modified: Friday, 1 April 2011

Disclaimer: The content on this website covers common problems. It will not answer every question and should not be used as a substitute for legislation or legal advice.State sector employers and employees may be affected by some differences in the laws that apply to them (e.g. State Sector Act 1988).The Department of Labour takes no responsibility for the results of any actions taken on the basis of information on this website, nor for any errors or omissions.