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We were on a break: demand your legally allowed rest periods at work


by Colette Sexton
31st Aug 2018
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Colette Sexton, news correspondent at The Sunday Business Post, on why it is important to speak up if you are not getting rest periods at work.


Most employees might feel like shouting “give me a break” to their bosses from time to time, but do you know your rights when it comes to actually taking breaks at work? In Ireland, employees who work more than 4.5 hours consecutively are entitled to take a rest period of at least 15 minutes. Employees who work for 6 hours or more are entitled to a break of at least 30 minutes. And these breaks cannot be taken at the end of the working day, as this does not provide sufficient rest to the employee.

Different rules apply to shop employees working in retail businesses. Shop employees who work more than six hours, and whose hours of work include the period 11.30am–2.30pm, are entitled to a one-hour consecutive break which must occur between 11.30am–2.30pm. These minimum statutory entitlements are set out in the Organisation of Working Act. It also states that employees are entitled to a rest period of not less than 11 consecutive hours in each 24-hour period, and are entitled to 24 hours’ consecutive rest every 7 days.

Look back at your working schedule. Are you getting the legal minimum rest period? If not, then it is time to do something about it.

However, before you go beating down your boss’s door, there are certain people who are not covered by the act – including Gardaí; Defence Forces; employees who control their own working hours; and family employees on farms or in private homes. As well as that, your employer is not legally required to allow for toilet, lunch or cigarette breaks.

Employers can find themselves in hot water if they do not follow this legislation. Last month, the Workplace Relations Commission awarded 14 employees of Paddy Power compensation for denial of rest breaks. Each of the staff, who were represented by Mandate Trade Union, were awarded up to €1,000 each. The act provides for fines of up to €1904.61 and a further €634.87 for each day that the offence continues.

Following on from Paddy Power news, Peninsula Ireland, an Irish employment law and HR consultancy, issued information on the rest rights of employees. It said that “well-run businesses treat their staff well. This often entails providing employees with more favourable working conditions than simply the statutory minimum. While it is important to stay on the right side of the law, it is arguably more important for employers to sometimes go above and beyond statutory minimum terms of employment. Trusting employees not to abuse discretionary policies which treat them with respect is likely to inspire greater loyalty and commitment than a bare minimum approach.”

In an ideal world, everyone would work for a company that offers staff conditions better than the legal requirement. Unfortunately, there are some employers out there that are taking advantage of staff and breaking the law by not allowing their employees to take breaks. If you are not allowed to take breaks at your workplace, the first thing to do is raise the issue with your manager or HR. If that does not work, go to a trade union official who can advise you on the matter, and can escalate it if necessary. If you are not a member of a trade union, you can complain about your employer to the Workplace Relations Commission through its website. There is a reason rest periods are set out in legislation. Breaks at work are important for your physical and mental wellbeing. Don’t let your employer take away your rights.