In the workplace, employees are entitled to take breaks. It is important for employers to know the laws regarding breaks in the workplace to ensure compliance.
Failure to provide your employees with breaks could lead to claims being made against you.
In this guide, we will go over the rules governing breaks in different provinces and for federally regulated workplaces, common questions about breaks in the workplace, and how to implement breaks in your business.
What is a break?
A break is a temporary pause during work that an employee is entitled to. During the break, the employee should be free from any responsibility at work. An employee may spend their time on break eating lunch or socializing with other employees on break
An employer cannot force an employee to work during their break, however, there are exceptions. In addition to breaks during their shift, employees are entitled to a break between their shifts throughout the day and regular work week.
How Long are Breaks at Work?
In non-unionized provincially and federally regulated workplaces, employees are required to take a break according to the applicable employment standards legislation. The length of the break is dependent on how long the employee’s shift is.
All provinces generally have the same rules regarding breaks, but some differ. Moreover, federally regulated workplaces have different rules regarding breaks.
According to employment standards legislation, breaks at work are generally unpaid, except where the employer requires the employee to be available on their break. You may choose to pay your employees while they’re on a break, but you’re not required to do so.
The Law on Breaks in the Workplace
As an employer, you must familiarize yourself with the federal and provincial laws surrounding breaks to ensure you are acting legally.
Federal Work Break Laws
Breaks in the workplace are governed by employment standards legislation. The federal government has enacted their own employment standards legislation for federally regulated workplaces.
The Canada Labour Code governs federal, non-unionized workplaces. Examples of these workplaces are:
- Transportation companies, such as trucking companies and railways.
- Television and broadcast companies.
The Canada Labour Code states that there are three types of breaks:
- 30-minute break.
- Medical break.
- Nursing break.
Subject to any exemptions, employees (who are not managers) in federal, non-unionized workplaces are entitled to a 30-minute unpaid break for every five consecutive hours worked.
Employers must also ensure that the time between an employee’s shift does not exceed eight hours. Employees are entitled to an unpaid rest period of at least eight hours between their shifts.
The Canada Labour Code hours of work and breaks section also states that employees may be entitled to a medical break or a nursing break.
A medical break is a break intended for medical reasons. There is no time limit on how long these breaks can be. But an employee may be required to provide a certificate from a health practitioner stating the frequency of the breaks required.
Eligible staff may also be entitled to nursing breaks when an employee needs to breastfeed at work. Medical and nursing breaks are unpaid breaks.
Provincial Work Break Laws
It's vital you understanf the different provincal laws surrounding breaks at work.
Ontario Work Break Laws
The Ontario Employment Standards Act refers to breaks as “eating periods.” Subject to any exceptions, employees are entitled to a 30-minute break for every five consecutive hours worked.
For breaks at work in Ontario, the maximum daily hours that can be worked in a day is eight hours, however, an employer and an employee may agree to exceed that daily limit.
If this daily limit is extended, the employee may be entitled to more breaks throughout the day. For example, an employee who works 10 hours would be entitled to two 30-minute breaks.
Employers must give employees at least 11 consecutive hours free from work during any given workday. Employers must also give employees at least eight consecutive hours free from work in between scheduled shifts. Furthermore, employers must give employees at least 24 hours free from work during a regular work week, or 48 hours in two consecutive weeks.
British Columbia (B.C.) Work Break Laws
The B.C. Employment Standards Act states that employees are entitled to a 30-minute unpaid break for every five consecutive hours worked. There are no daily maximum hours employees may work. Employees may be entitled to overtime pay if they work more than eight hours in a day or 40 hours in a week.
In B.C., employers must give employees at least eight consecutive hours free from work in between scheduled shifts and at least 32 hours free from work during the work week.
Alberta Work Break Laws
The Alberta Employment Standards Code states that employees who work five or more consecutive hours, but less than ten hours, are entitled to one 30-minute break, paid or unpaid.
Furthermore, employees that work 10 or more hours are entitled to two 30-minute breaks, paid or unpaid. In Alberta, the daily maximum hours an employee can work is 12 consecutive hours in one workday, unless there is an emergency that requires them to work longer.
Employers must give employees at least eight consecutive hours free from work in between scheduled shifts and at least 24 hours free from work during the work week.
Manitoba Work Break Laws
The Employment Standards Code of Manitoba states that employees who work five or more consecutive hours are entitled to a 30-minute break, unpaid. Moreover, employees are entitled to a break at any time, if necessary for medical reasons.
In Manitoba, employers must give employees at least 24 consecutive hours free from work during the work week.
Saskatchewan Work Break Laws
The Saskatchewan Employment Act states that employees who work five or more consecutive hours are entitled to a 30-minute break, unpaid. Moreover, employees are entitled to a break at any time, if necessary for medical reasons.
In Saskatchewan, employers must give employees at least eight consecutive hours of rest in any 24-hour period. Moreover, employers must give employees at least 24 consecutive hours free from work a week if the employee works at least 20 hours a week.
Are you Legally Entitled to a Break at Work?
Employers are legally obligated to give employees a break at work in accordance with provincial and federal employment standards legislation.
If an employer refuses or does not give a break, the employee may file a complaint with the provincial (or federal) employment standards office.
How Many Hours Must You Work to get a Break?
Employers are legally obligated to give employees a 30-minute break for every five consecutive hours worked. In some provinces, employees may work more than ten hours. Therefore, an employee may be entitled to an additional 30-minute break.
Do You Get Paid for Breaks at Work?
Employers are not required to pay employees during their 30-minute break. However, some employers may choose to at their own discretion.
In certain cases, such as when an employer requires an employee to be available during their 30-minute break, the employer must pay the employee during their break.
Can I Split the Employee’s Break?
Employers are not allowed to split the employee’s break (eg. two 15-minute breaks instead of one 30-minute break) unless the employee agrees to splitting the break.
Are Employees Entitled to a Coffee Break or Smoke Break?
Employers are not required to provide employees with additional breaks such as coffee breaks or smoke breaks, beyond the 30-minute break.
However, employers typically provide additional breaks beyond the minimum standards (such as a morning coffee break) to their employees to boost morale and improve retention.
Can I Dictate When Employees Take Their Break?
Employers are allowed to dictate when employees take their breaks. This is so breaks are taken to ensure the flow of business is not disrupted.
Although employers may dictate when employees take their break, employers must ensure employees take their break before the first five consecutive hours or once the employee has worked for five hours continuously.
Are Employees Entitled to Bathroom Breaks?
There are no statutory requirements that entitle employees to bathroom breaks. However, during the workday, it is inevitable that staff will need to take bathroom breaks.
Employers must allow employees to use the bathroom as frequently as they need. In some cases, frequent use of the bathroom may be disability-related. Employers should be mindful of their duty to accommodate under human rights legislation.
Absent of a duty to accommodate, employers should ensure that employees are not abusing these bathroom breaks for some ulterior motive (e.g. spending time on their personal cellphone).
Exceptions to Breaks at Work
You may postpone or cancel a break if necessary. However, it must be due to a situation that you could not reasonably anticipate, and that carries a serious threat. Such as:
- Danger to the life, health, or safety of a person.
- Risk of damage to or loss of property.
- A serious interference with the normal operation of the employer’s establishment.
How to Implement Breaks in Your Business
Although not mandatory, it is recommended that employers provide additional breaks where needed in accordance with health & safety obligations.
For example, employees working in landscaping or in a warehouse may be exposed to extreme heat during the summer. Employers should provide additional “water breaks” for employees to cool off from the heat.
In other cases, it is recommended that employers provide additional breaks to employees returning to work after suffering an injury. Employees who suffer physical injuries require rehabilitation and time to return to full function. Employers should provide additional breaks to employees where needed.
Get Advice on Breaks at Work with BrightHR
As an employer, you have a duty of care to provide your employees with breaks. This is to ensure the health & safety of your workers and avoid any risks of non-compliance with the law.
If you do not give your employees breaks, your employees may file a complaint to the employment standards office or even file a human rights complaint if you violate the applicable human rights legislation.
If you need assistance with drafting workplace violence and harassment policies and procedures, or even looking to update current ones, our BrightAdvice service allows you to receive quality advice on any employment issues you may have.
Contact us on 18882204924 or book a demo today.
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