breaks in the workplace, workplace lawyers

Are You Legally Entitled to Breaks in the Workplace?

There is a common misconception that an employer must provide their employees with a lunch break and coffee/smoke breaks during their workday. However, this generalization is inaccurate for most workplaces.

What Breaks Am I Entitled to in Ontario?

Part VII of Ontario’s Employment Standards Act (“ESA”) outlines the rules for hours of work and eating periods. Generally, employees are entitled to an unpaid eating period of 30 minutes. An employee is not to work more than 5 consecutive hours without an eating period. 

It is also permitted for employees to enter into an agreement whereby they are provided with two eating periods, that total 30 minutes (in each 5-hour period). This variation may be the basis of the incorrect belief that employees are entitled to two 15-minute breaks a day. In reality, an employer is not obligated to provide an employee with any other breaks apart from these eating periods. 

Of course, there are numerous exceptions based on the type of work, negotiated agreements, workplace policies, common practice, human rights accommodations, and industry-specific exemptions. For example, an employee may agree to work more than these limits. An employer may also choose to provide employees with other breaks. 

Notably, if an employee is required to stay on the premises during their additional break, then s/he must be paid. Eating breaks in the workplace, whether they are paid or unpaid, are not considered hours of work and cannot be counted towards overtime.

What if I am Currently Not Getting the Minimum Meal Break Time at Work? 

Certain professions and industries are exempt from portions of the ESA including limits on work hours and meal breaks. You can consult the Ontario Government’s website here to find out if you are exempt from portions of the ESA, and here as it relates to work breaks. Remember, these resources are not a substitute for legal advice.

We recommend consulting with an employment lawyer if you have any concerns. An experienced lawyer can alert you to whether your rights are being violated and present you with your options. One such option is to contact the Ministry of Labour. Usually, an Employment Standards Officer will try to resolve the dispute and may make an order. If you disagree with an order, you may want to appeal to the Ontario Labour Relations Board.

What if I Get Fired for Asking for My Permitted Meal Break?

If you are disciplined or terminated for enforcing your rights, this is illegal and may amount to reprisal. There are various routes you can take depending on the particular circumstances. For example, you may want to:

  • Further negotiate with your employer;
  • Contact the Ministry of Labour;
  • Commence litigation in court; or
  • Start an application at the appropriate administrative tribunal such the Ontario Labour Relations Board, or the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.

Determining the most appropriate route is not always a straightforward decision. It is usually a fact-specific inquiry, so we recommend that you seek legal advice from an experienced employment lawyer to understand your rights and options.

Contact Us

If you are an employer and have questions pertaining to mandatory employee break times within your workplace, or and employee who believes that your employer is not providing the required break times, our team of experienced workplace lawyers at Achkar Law can help. Contact us by phone toll-free at +1 (800) 771-7882 or email us at [email protected] and we would be happy to assist.

If you are a small or medium-sized company looking for full-service support with same day response, visit our CLO Program page for our strategic solutions.