Work breaks and rest periods

Introduction

All workers are entitled to have breaks while they are at work and rest periods between working days or nights. This page will help you understand what work breaks and rest periods you are entitled to by law.

Minimum break and rest period entitlements are set out in the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997. These rules apply to most workers but there are some exceptions – see ‘exceptions and special circumstances’ below.

How many breaks should I get?

You have a right to:

  • A 15 minute break when you have worked for 4 ½ hours
  • A 30 minute break when you have worked more than 6 hours, which can include the first 15-minute break.

The break should not be at the end of the working day.

You have no legal right to be paid for these breaks and they are not considered working time. Whether you are paid for them depends on your employment contract.

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 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.

Rules for shop workers

Special rules apply if you work in a shop and you work more than 6 hours including from 11.30am to 2.30pm. You are entitled to a one-hour consecutive break which must be between 11.30am and 2.30pm.

Rules for breastfeeding mothers

If you breastfeed or express milk, you can have extra breaks in work. You are entitled to either:

  • 60 minutes time off: taken as one 60 minute break, two 30 minute breaks or three 20 minute breaks
  • A reduction in your work hours: by 60 minutes in an 8 hour working day

Breaks are paid for the first 6 months of your baby’s life. Read more about breastfeeding in work.

Smoking breaks

You don’t have a legal right to smoking breaks.

Work breaks and remote working

When you are working from home, you must get your daily and weekly rest. The duty to comply with the rules on breaks and rest periods is with the employer, not the employee. However, you should tell your employer if you are not able to take rest periods or breaks and the reason why. You can read more in the code of practice on the right to disconnect (pdf).

What rest periods should I get between working days?

You are entitled to get regular rest periods between working days. The definition of a rest period is any time that is not working time.

You are entitled to daily and weekly rest periods.

Daily rest period

You have the right to 11 consecutive hours in any 24 hours. For example, if you finish work at 8pm, you should not start work again until 7am the next day.

Weekly rest period (‘days off’)

Weekly rest are whole days when you don’t come into work, usually called ‘days’ off’.

You have the right to either:

  • A weekly rest period of 24 consecutive hours in any 7 days, following a daily rest period (should be a Sunday, unless your contract says something different)
  • Two 24-hour rest periods in a week if it follows a week, in which you did not get any 24-hour rest periods (should include a Sunday, unless your contract says something different)

Exceptions and special circumstances

Some workers are not covered by the rules on breaks and rest periods.

There are special circumstances where you might not get the normal breaks or rest, but you have a right to compensatory rest instead - this means a rest period taken later.

Who is not covered by the rules?

The rules 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
  • People employed in transport activities
  • Certain categories of civil protection services
  • Fishermen

Some of these workers are covered by special rules that give them different rights around breaks and rest periods.

The working hours of young people under the age of 18 are regulated by the Protection of Young Persons (Employment) Act 1996 - see ‘work breaks for young workers’ below.

Exceptions to getting normal breaks

In some cases the normal rules will not apply:

  • Exceptional circumstances: for example an emergency or an accident or some other unforeseeable event outside your employers control
  • Collective agreement to change rest periods: 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, if you work split shifts or changing shifts

Instead of getting normal breaks, you are entitled to compensatory rest. This means a rest period taken later, if possible before the end of the day. The Workplace Relations Commission has a Code of Practice on Compensatory Rest Periods.

Work breaks for young workers

Rest breaks for young people are regulated by the Protection of Young Persons (Employment) Act 1996. The rules do not apply if you are employed by a close relative.

Rest breaks for children under 16

Half hour rest break After 4 hours work
Daily rest break 14 consecutive hours off
Weekly rest break 2 days off, to be consecutive if possible

Rest breaks for young people aged 16 and 17

Half hour rest break After 4 1/2 hours work
Daily rest break 12 consecutive hours off
Weekly rest break 2 days off, to be consecutive if possible

Make a complaint

If you have an issue about breaks or rest periods, you should raise it with your employer first. If you cannot resolve the issue directly with your employer, you can make a formal complaint to the Workplace Relations Commission. You should apply using the online complaint form.

You should make a complaint within 6 months of the dispute taking place. The time limit may be extended for up to a further 6 months, if there was reasonable cause for the delay.

You can get more information on breaks and rest periods and your employment from the Workplace Relations Commission's Information and Customer Service – see 'Where to apply' below.

Where to complain

Workplace Relations Commission - Information and Customer Service

O'Brien Road
Carlow
R93 E920

Opening Hours: Mon. to Fri. 9.30am to 1pm, 2pm to 5pm
Tel: (059) 917 8990
Locall: 1890 80 80 90
Page edited: 22 July 2021