Rest periods and breaks
All workers are entitled to have breaks while they are at work and rest periods between working days or nights. To find out what breaks you should get at work – see ‘rules’ below. The Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 sets out employees statutory minimum entitlements for the working week, annual leave, night work, breaks and rest periods.
In general, you are entitled to a 15 minute break when you have worked for 4 ½ hours. If you work more than 6 hours you are entitled to a 30 minute break, which can include the first 15-minute break. There is no entitlement to be paid for these breaks and they are not considered working time.
Special rules apply to shop employees who work more than 6 hours and whose hours of work include the period 11.30am–2.30pm. These employees are entitled to a one-hour consecutive break which must occur between 11.30am–2.30pm.
If you start work at 7am you are entitled to take a 15-minute break at 11.30am. At 1.15pm when you have worked 6 hours you are entitled to take a break of 30 minutes. As you have already taken a break at 11.15, your employer can limit this break to 15 minutes. (If you are working in a shop you are entitled to a one-hour break at 1.15pm.) If you start working again at 1.30pm or 1.45pm and continue working until 6 or 6.15pm you are entitled to another 15-minute break.
Note: a break at the end of the working day is not acceptable and does not comply with the Act.
Rest period entitlements
The definition of a rest period is any time that is not working time. The rest periods set out in the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 are as follows:
- You are entitled to 11 consecutive hours rest in any period of 24 hours
- You should get 24 consecutive hours rest in any period of 7 days and this should normally follow on from one of the 11-hour rest periods mentioned above, or
As an alternative your employer can give you two 24-hour rest periods in a week if it follows a week, in which you did not get any 24-hour rest periods. Unless your contract states otherwise the 24-hour rest period above should include a Sunday.
Who is not covered by the Act?
The provisions of the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 on breaks and rest periods do not apply to all employees.
They do not apply to:
- The Gardaí
- Defence Forces
- Employees who control their own working hours
- Family employees on farms or in private homes
In the following situations employers can be exempted from providing rest periods:
- Exceptional circumstances: for example, if it is not possible to provide rest periods due to exceptional circumstances or an emergency
- Collective agreement: rest periods can be changed if there is a collective agreement to vary them. These changes must be approved by the Labour Court or if there is an Employment Regulation Order or Registered Employment Agreement
- Shift work: in certain circumstances, for example, people working split shifts or changing shifts
These exemptions are allowed provided the employee is given equivalent compensatory rest. This means that if a rest period is postponed the employee must be allowed to take it within a reasonable period of time. The Workplace Relations Commission has a Code of Practice on Compensatory Rest Periods.
However, the regulations governing those employed in transport activities (SI 20/1998) and in certain categories of civil protection services (SI 52/1998) exempt them from the provisions on statutory rest breaks and periods but do not require them to have equivalent compensatory rest.
There are special regulations governing working time of fishermen (S.I. No. 709/2003).
How to apply
You can refer disputes under the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 to the Workplace Relations Commission. You should make a complaint within 6 months of the dispute taking place. However, this time limit may be extended for up to 12 months if there was reasonable cause for not bringing the complaint within the first 6 months. You must use the online complaint form available on workplacerelations.ie.
Further information on breaks and rest periods and your employment rights is available from the Workplace Relations Commission's Information and Customer Service – see 'Where to apply' below.
Where to apply