Breaks in Employment


Rest and meal breaks from work are an essential part of enabling employees to work productively in their roles. In 2019, the Employment Relations Amendment Act 2019 was passed, which requires employees to have set meal and rest breaks. Prior to 2019, the law only required employers to give their employees a “reasonable” opportunity to take paid rest and unpaid meal breaks, but the change in 2019 firmed up break requirements.   


A case that illustrates the importance of providing adequate rest and meal breaks is CSJ v JRL [2023]. In the case, CSJ was an employee of a UK ‘24-hour health service’ who worked 20 hours per week in 4-hour shifts. CSJ claimed that throughout the employment relationship, he and his colleagues were not permitted to take 10-minute rest and meal breaks during their shifts. As a result, a personal grievance was raised against the employer for unjustified disadvantage. CSJ alleged that the employer had breached minimum employment standards by not allowing him to take statutory rest breaks.  


Section 69ZD of the Employment Relations Act states that an employee who works 2 hours or more but not more than 4 hours must be given a 10-minute paid rest break during their shift. It was quickly determined by the member in the ERA that the failure of JSL to provide paid rest breaks during CSJ’s employment affected his working conditions to his disadvantage.  


Because JRL failed to provide the statutory requirements of rest and meal breaks, the employer had to pay wage arrears of $1,833. Additionally, the employer had to pay $10,000 to the employee for humiliation, loss of dignity, and injury to feelings, which were related both to the lack of breaks and the unjustified dismissal. Therefore, there can be a high price to pay if rest and meal breaks are not provided for employees.  


The lesson from this case is clear: if rest or meal breaks are not provided, then consequences are sure to come. There are minor exceptions to statutory breaks, but overall, breaks are important to enable employees to perform at their best in the workplace.  


If you are an employer needing some advice regarding breaks or if you believe that you have not been given your mandatory meal or rest breaks as an employee, please get in touch with the Watermark Employment Law team. We are happy to assist you.