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Breaks at Work: Employee Rights and Employer Obligations!

Written by on November 24, 2020 in Employment Law Blog, Employment Law Issues
Breaks at Work, eating period

Employees are entitled to take periodic breaks from their workday. These breaks at work, known as “eating periods” in Ontario’s Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA), are governed by section 20 of that legislation.

Under the ESA, employers must provide employees with one thirty-minute break from work after five hours of work. While they may provide more breaks if they so choose, employers may not provide any less than the stipulated amount.

This means that, legally speaking, an employer is not required to provide ANY breaks to employees other than the thirty-minute “eating period”.

An employer can determine when this break is to be taken, but only as long as it is before the conclusion of five continuous hours of work. An employee must be able to take a break after five hours of work. (And, if the employee works another five hours, she is entitled to another thirty-minute break at the conclusion of that period).

Further, anything less than an uninterrupted thirty-minute break is not deemed to be a break. If an employee’s break is cut short by work, she is entitled to another full thirty-minute break.

Employers and employees can agree to split the employee’s breaks, such as two fifteen-minute breaks per five hours of work, instead of one thirty-minute break. However, the employee must consent to this arrangement and has the right to refuse the suggestion.

Under the ESA, the thirty-minute “eating period” need not be paid. This is why the standard forty-hour week is actually a 37.5-hour week. However, as with all employment standards, the legislation sets out the minimum requirements. Employers may pay employees for breaks if they choose.

Although the ESA does not require employers to provide any breaks to employees other than the thirty-minute “eating period”, however brief, employers arguably must allow bathroom breaks as a matter of health and safety.

If you are unsure about your rights or obligations surrounding breaks, we are here to help.

Minken Employment Lawyers is your source for expert advice and advocacy on today’s employment law issues. If you have any questions with respect to the above, please contact us or call us at 905-477-7011. Sign up for our newsletter to receive up-to-date Employment Law information, including new legislation and Court decisions impacting your workplace.

Please note that this article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.

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