assigned work during break, employment lawyer toronto, employment standards

Can Employees Legally Be Assigned Work During Break?

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and remote work arrangements, many employees find themselves being increasingly assigned additional work while they are on a break. This issue is not new, as there are many common misconceptions about employee entitlements to breaks under Ontario law. These misconceptions could lead to burnout for employees and potential legal liability for employers. 

Employee Entitlement to Breaks

In most Ontario workplaces, the minimum standards governing employment relationships are outlined by the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (the “ESA”). Contrary to popular misconceptions, the ESA only requires that employees be provided a total 30 minute unpaid “eating period” upon or within every 5 consecutive hours of work. 

Employers can choose to provide employees multiple breaks in addition to the lunch break or choose to pay an employee for their lunch period, depending on the terms of the employment agreement in place. An employer and an employee can agree orally or in writing to split the 30 minute break into 2 within every 5 consecutive hours of work so long as the total break time adds up to at least 30 minutes. 

For clarity, employees are not legally entitled to bathroom breaks, coffee breaks, or other short breaks in addition to their 30 minute eating period upon or within 5 consecutive hours of work. However, employers may be obligated to provide an employee additional break periods to accommodate an employee in the workplace pursuant to the Ontario Human Rights Code

Can An Employer Interrupt a Break? 

Under the ESA, an employee’s 30-minute break must be uninterrupted for the employee to be considered to have taken their break. If an employee’s break was interrupted by an employer, they would be entitled to take another full 30-minute break that is uninterrupted. 

An employer assigning an employee additional work while they are on their 30-minute break would be considered an interruption that would entitle an employee to an additional 30-minute break. For example, if an employee is on their statutory break for 15 minutes, and their employer assigned work for them during that break, the employee would be entitled to a further 30 minutes of break that must be uninterrupted. 

Takeaways 

Employers are obligated under the ESA to provide an employee an uninterrupted 30-minute unpaid break upon or within 5 hours of consecutive work. If the employee’s break is interrupted by work assigned during their break, the employee would be entitled to another full 30-minute break that is uninterrupted. 

Both employers and employees should consult an employment lawyer to determine their obligations and rights respecting break periods as every case turns on their unique facts. 

Contact Us

If you are an employer  who wants to know more about their obligations under the ESA, or an employee who has questions about their rights under the ESA, our team of experienced workplace lawyers at Achkar Law can help. Contact us by phone toll-free at +1 (866) 508-2548 or email us at [email protected] and we would be happy to assist.

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