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Rest Breaks

From 1 April 2009, employers are required to provide workers with paid rest breaks and unpaid meal breaks.

Workers are entitled to the following paid rest breaks:
  • one 10-minute paid rest break if their work period is between two and four hours;
  • one 10-minute paid rest break and one unpaid 30-minute meal break if their work period is from four to six hours;
  • two 10-minute paid rest breaks and one 30-minute unpaid meal break if their work period is from six to eight hours.
Where employees work for periods longer than eight hours, these provisions automatically re-apply to each succeeding work period.

What is a rest break?

The legislation does not define the term rest break, but the intent of a rest break is to ensure that employees have the opportunity for rest and refreshment, and to attend to personal needs. The details as to how an employee’s work might be managed and the level of connection they need to have with their work while on their rest break will depend on the type of job that the employee does. For this reason, it is best that an employer and employee discuss how work will be managed during the break.

Can employees choose their break times?

Employees and employers can agree to the timing of the breaks. Where such agreement cannot be reached however, the rest and meal breaks must be evenly spread throughout the work period where reasonable and practicable.

Additional rest and meal breaks

Employers and employees are free to agree to additional entitlements to rest and meal breaks — either paid or unpaid.

Must a rest break take place away from the work place?

No. The details as to where the break will be taken can also be negotiated by agreement between employee and employer – this could be in the workplace or offsite.

Where does it apply?

The rest break provisions apply to all people employed for hire or reward in all workplaces.

Does this legislation apply to everybody?

No. The new rest and meal break entitlements will not apply to employees who are covered by other legislative or regulatory provisions for rest and meal breaks, where those other provisions are enhanced or additional to the entitlements in the Act. Where an employee is required to take a rest break under another enactment, that enactment applies instead of the entitlements to rest and meal breaks under the Act. This would include, for example, the Land Transport Rule: Work Time and Logbooks 2007 made under the Land Transport Act 1998.

Is it mandatory to provide paid rest breaks and unpaid meal breaks?

Yes. Employers who do not do so could be subject to penalties from the Employment Relations Authority.

How will this change things?

Not much. Over 93% of current collective employment contracts already make provisions for meal and rest breaks that meet the Act’s requirements. These will be unaffected by the new legislation.

If it does not change anything why was it introduced?

The new legislation is designed to protect vulnerable workers, such as part-timers and casuals. Many of these workers are not covered by collective employment agreements and may not currently have access to rest and meal breaks. The changes will also benefit younger workers.

Why do workers need a break?

Tired workers are dangerous workers. They can exercise poor judgement and make mistakes that could be fatal. Allowing them to take breaks rests both the body and mind. Rested workers are more productive and safer workers.

What about hospitals, prisons and other businesses that operate 24 hours a day?

Businesses that operate 24 hours will need to review their rosters and staffing arrangements to ensure they comply with the new law.

How will this legislation affect industries where employees are required to work continuously for set periods such as the medical profession and aviation industry?

The legislation allows employers and employees to agree on the timing of breaks. Thus breaks can be staggered to ensure production or work is continuous.

In many professions (e.g. aircraft pilots, truck drivers) there are already mandatory rest break provisions. Other establishments’ (e.g. schools and supermarkets) staffing arrangements are already designed to accommodate the need to take rest breaks.
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