Breaks during work
An employer cannot require an employee to work for a period of more than four hours and 30 minutes without allowing them a break of at least 15 minutes. In addition an employer cannot require an employee to work for a period of more than six hours without allowing them a break of at least 30 minutes. This break may include the 15 minute break due after four hours 30 minutes. The Act makes no reference to payment for such breaks.
A break has to take place close to the middle of the work period. Allowing an employee a break at the end of the day is not regarded as satisfying the requirements contained in sub-sections 1 and 2 of section 12, while a break too close to the beginning of a shift might be insufficient compliance. Again the restriction is on the employer requiring the worker to work without a rest period. There is no restriction on the employee simply giving up a break. That said, merely stating that an employee can take rest breaks and not putting in place proper procedures to ensure the employee receives these breaks does not discharge the duty on the employer.
There are special regulations for shop employees working between 11.30am and 2.30pm entitling them to a break of one hour under the Organisation of Working Time (Breaks at Work for Shop Employees) Regulations 1998.
Daily rest entitlement
An employee is entitled to a rest period of not less than 11 consecutive hours in each period of 24 hours during which they work for their employer. The daily rest provision is an entitlement of the worker. Therefore, while an employee may not be instructed to work for more than 13 hours, there is no prohibition on an employee volunteering to work for more than 13 hours. The daily rest period is unlike the maximum working week provision under which an employer is forbidden from permitting an employee to work more than an average of 48 hours.
The entitlement to a daily rest period does not apply where:
- An employer is, subject to a requirement to provide compensatory rest period(s), permitted to instruct an employee to work for a period in excess of 13 hours per 24 hour period where the worker falls within one of the categories designated in the General Exemption Regulations 1998 (see section below).
- A collective agreement has been registered by the Labour Court under section 24 and the agreement provides for compensatory rest.
- There is a change in shift or where work is split up over the day as provided in section 4 of the Act.
- There are exceptional circumstances or an emergency, the consequences of which could not have been avoided despite the exercise of all due care, or there are unusual or unforeseeable circumstances beyond the employer’s control.
- The work falls under section 3(3) of the Act which enables the minister to exempt certain categories of workers from specified provisions of the Act, where the inherent nature of the activity is such that, if the provision concerned were to apply to a said person, the efficient operation of the service would be adversely affected. For example, the Organisation of Working Time (Exemption of Civil Protection Services) Regulations 1998 exclude roles such as prison officer, fire officer and customs officer from the application of the daily rest requirements.
Weekly rest period
Section 13 entitles an employee to an uninterrupted break of 35 hours in each period of seven days. It provides that an employee must in each period of seven days, be granted a rest period of at least 24 consecutive hours. This rest period must begin immediately after a daily rest period of 11 hours. The break must, unless the contract states otherwise, include Sunday. Accordingly, an employee is, unless the contract states otherwise, entitled to be free from Saturday at 1.00pm.
The employer may in lieu of granting the rest period in the first period of seven days, grant two rest periods of at least 24 hours in the next week. The periods granted may, at the discretion of the employer, be consecutive or non-consecutive. The postponed weekly rest period, if consecutive, may only begin at the end of a period of daily rest. Where the employer postpones the weekly rest period until the following week and organises a break in two periods of 24 hours, then each period must be preceded by a daily rest period.
The Labour Relations Commission (now the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC)) has issued a code of practice on the issue of compensatory rest which suggests that an employee is only entitled to the period of rest which the worker has missed.