All workers are entitled to have breaks while they are at work and rest periods between working days or nights. The Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 sets out the statutory minimum entitlement for employees as regards working hours, annual leave, night work, breaks and rest periods for employees.
The general rule on breaks is that you are entitled to a break of 15 minutes after a 4 ½ hour work period. If you work more than 6 hours you are entitled to a break of 30 minutes, which can include the first 15-minute break. There is no entitlement to be paid during these breaks and they are not considered part of working time.
Shop employees who work more than 6 hours and whose hours of work include 11.30am–2.30pm are entitled to a one-hour consecutive break which must occur during those hours.
Example: 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.
Employees whose working conditions are covered by the Registered Employment Agreement (Dublin and Dun Laoghaire Drapery, Footwear And Allied Trades) are entitled to a 15-minute paid break (exclusive of the main meal break) if working more than 4 ½ hours.
Until 7 July 2011 employees who were covered by the Employment Regulation Order (ERO) for the Retail Grocery and Allied Trades (nationwide) were entitled to a 15-minute paid break (exclusive of the main meal break) if working more than 4 ½ hours. Following a High Court decision Employment Regulation Orders ceased to have statutory effect from 7 July 2011. Employees who were covered by this ERO have existing contracts of employment which govern their conditions of work. Any change in their contract of employment normally requires the employee’s consent so the terms set down in the ERO still apply to employees whose contracts date from before 7 July 2011. Until new EROs are made the conditions of work (including rest periods) for employees who start work after 7 July 2011 are governed by employment legislation such as the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997.
The definition of a rest period is any time that is not working time. The rest periods set out in the Act are as follows:
(a) You are entitled to 11 consecutive hours rest in any period of 24 hours. In addition 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 already mentioned, or
(b) As an alternative your employer can give you two 24-hour rest periods in the week that follows one in which you did not get the entitlement described in (a) above.
Unless your contract provides otherwise your 24-hour rest period referred to above should include a Sunday.
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 or family employees on farms or in private homes. The working hours of young people under the age of 18 are regulated by the Protection of Young Persons (Employment) Act 1996.
In the following situations employers can be exempted from providing the rest periods as set out in the Act. 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
Exceptional circumstances: an employer is exempt from providing these rest periods if this is not possible due to exceptional circumstances or emergency.
Collective agreement: The rest periods set out in the Act may be varied if there is a collective agreement to vary them which has been approved by the Labour Court or if there is an Employment Regulation Order or Registered Employment Agreement.
Shift work: When shift workers are changing shift or are working split shifts there is an exemption from the requirement to have the rest periods as specified in the Act.
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/periods but do not require them to have equivalent compensatory rest.
You can refer disputes under the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997. You should make a complaint within 6 months of the dispute occurring. You must use the online complaint form available on workplacerelations.ie. 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.
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.
Information and Customer Service
Opening Hours: Mon. to Fri. 9.30am to 5pm
Tel: (059) 917 8990
Locall: 1890 80 80 90
Fax:(059) 917 8909
If you have a question relating to this topic you can contact the Citizens Information Phone Service on 0761 07 4000 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm) or you can visit your local Citizens Information Centre.