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Employee's entitlements to breaks in the workplace

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

All employees are entitled to paid rest breaks and unpaid meal breaks which:
  • give them a reasonable chance, during work period, to rest, refresh, and take care of personal matters
  • are appropriate for the length of time they have worked for the employer.
How long and when should breaks be?
There are no specific rules for how long, or when, rest and meal breaks should be. Employers and employees should bargain in good faith over the timing and length of breaks.

Common practice is that rest breaks are 10–15 minutes long and meal breaks at least 30 minutes long, but these times vary across industries and occupations. If an employee is unsure what general practice is in their industry, he or she can check with their industry association or union.

Compensation instead of breaks
Employers and employees can agree to compensation instead of breaks. However, employers must compensate employees if no break is given where a break would be appropriate.

There are no set rules as to what appropriate compensation is, but it must be reasonable. Compensation is reasonable if of similar value to the break.

Employees with babies
Employers must provide appropriate breaks and facilities for employees with babies who wish to breastfeed or express breast milk, where this is reasonable and practicable. These are unpaid breaks unless the employer agrees otherwise.

Concerned with your entitlements?
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 Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment for mediation assistance. This is 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 a dispute is unable to be resolved, cases of non-compliance can be taken to the Employment Relations Authority.

See more about rest and meal breaks in the workplace

Date Modified: Friday, 6 March 2015

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.