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Statutory breaks v. employment practices

Statutory breaks v. employment practices

By Yosie Saint-Cyr, LL.B., Managing Editor, HRinfodesk.com---Canadian Payroll and Employment Law News, February 2011

An HRinfodesk reader wanted to know about the types of breaks that employers offer their employees. So we asked: If your employees work eight-hour days, what is the total amount of time you allow for meal and other breaks? Obviously, employment legislation sets a minimum standard for each jurisdiction, which I'm sure all of our readers follow, but employers can provide more time, whether their employees request it or just because they think it makes good business sense.

According to the results of the poll, not many responders apply the general minimum statutory requirement of 30-minute meal breaks found in most employment standards legislation. By the looks of it, most employers who responded to the poll offer employees 1-hour meal breaks, and several add additional breaks to that hour. Unfortunately, those who responded by selecting “Other” did not provide any comments on what they do offer that is different from the options presented. For more details on poll results, see the table below.

Among our respondents, an employment practice outranks the minimum statutory requirements.

As stated above, in general, employees must receive a 30-minute unpaid break after every five consecutive hours of work. This is the only break required. This provision may vary depending on your jurisdiction. For specifics in your jurisdiction, consult the HRinfodesk Library, select your jurisdiction, then Pay and Working Conditions followed by Hours of Work and Overtime. Read the article titled: Hours of work provisions.

Many employers provide coffee breaks, cigarette breaks or other meal breaks throughout the day. These are allowed, but they are not required under the law. However, if an employer does provide another type of a break, such as a coffee break, and the employee must remain at his or her workplace during the break, the employee must be paid at least the minimum wage for that time (depending on the jurisdiction).

Employers do not need to pay for break periods since employees are on their own time during breaks, however employers may choose to do so. Employees must be free of all responsibility and be able to leave the workplace during their breaks.

In certain jurisdiction like Manitoba, employers can be excluded from the break requirement. They must apply to the Employment Standards Branch, and the branch will look at the circumstances of the employer and the opinions of the employees when considering a meal break variance.

Unionized workplaces may have different provisions for work breaks.

Breaks are usually not included in overtime calculations. Keeping accurate records will show when employees have worked and when they are on breaks.

In some jurisdictions, like Ontario, employees and employers can agree that the 30-minute meal period can be taken as two shorter breaks within a period of five hours. Together the two eating periods must total at least 30 minutes.

Note that if an employee has a medical concern requiring him or her to take a break at particular times, an employee is entitled to take rest or eating breaks at times other than those summarized above. In some cases, the employee may also have a right to additional breaks as an accommodation under human rights legislation.

The Quick Reference section of the HRinfodesk Library also offers a comparative chart of break requirements under employment/labour standards by jurisdiction.