On 1 April 2009 legislation was amended to ensure all employees receive a minimum amount of rest and meal breaks during their working period.  Under the new law, employees who work the following hours are entitled to the following rest and meal breaks:

  • 2 to 4 hours = one paid 10min rest break
  • 4 to 6 hours = one paid 10min rest break, and one unpaid 30min meal break
  • 6 to 8 hours = two paid 10min rest breaks, and one unpaid 30min meal break
  • 8 to 10 hours = three paid 10min rest breaks, and one unpaid 30min meal break
  • 10 to 12 hours = three paid 10min rest breaks, and two unpaid 30min meal breaks

It is recommended the breaks be evenly spread during the employees working period.

However, the practicality of employees taking the breaks when recommended is proving problematic for certain professions.

Take for example a chemist shop with a sole pharmacist.  Under current legislation, the chemist would have to close when the pharmacist takes breaks, as the Medicine Act requires the shop to have, “Immediate supervision and control of a pharmacist”.

A school in a remote area with only one teacher is another example.  The teacher is likely to be on duty throughout the day, which would mean they would not get a proper break under the new law.  What employers and employees need to be aware of is that the legislation expressly states the breaks are to be taken so long as it is reasonable and practicable to do so.

Therefore, if an employee is required to cover another employee, be on duty, or attend a meeting, when they are entitled to a break, they can’t refuse to do so just because they have not taken their break.  What the law change does provide is a guideline for the amount and length of breaks an employee should be entitled to when working a specified amount of hours.

Employers and employees are encouraged to act in good faith and if it is not practicable or reasonable for an employee to take a break, both parties should then be flexible in when these breaks are to be taken.

There are some professions where flexibility and good faith will not combat the practicalities of employees taking all their breaks when entitled.  The legislation is silent in these occasions, and the government has even indicated that the changes may be repealed if they do not work in practice.

Even so, the law change will highlight those employees who are currently not receiving adequate rest and meal breaks, and will provide a tool for negotiation between employers and employees to address this inadequacy.  Employers should be aware that if they fail to provide rest and meal breaks where it is reasonable and practicable to do so, they may be fined up to $10,000.00.  Whether you are an employee or an employer and you would like to discuss this further, or enquire about any aspect of employment law, please call Alan Knowlsey for a relaxed and confidential initial chat.