Are Breaks Required?

Shawnee Love   •   March 22, 2019

One of the questions that comes up quite often from employers is

“Do I have to give my employees breaks?”

The answer as with all things employment related is

“It depends.”

Here is what workday breaks depend on:

  1. Is a break necessary for safety purposes?  Some activities require frequent breaks to ensure mental acuity and as such, if it is necessary for safety then a break is absolutely required.
  2. Is a break necessary based on the length of time the person has worked? Across Canada, there are rules associated with when breaks are required which are tied to the length of the shift.  Standards such as a 15 minute break after 4 hours, or a half hour within 5 consecutive hours, etc. apply.  This information is contained in your employment standards legislation or your collective agreement (if unionized).
  3. Is a break necessary for health reasons?  Some individuals need breaks to be able to get through the workday. While not mandated by law, if a doctor requires the individual to have a break within a specified time frame, you may want to accommodate unless the break constitutes an operational hardship.

The question of whether breaks are individually required sometimes comes up with an employee who takes frequent smoke breaks.  In this situation, gaining insight into whether the smoking is an addiction or just a habit becomes critical information.

And it should go without saying that if a person needs to use the toilet, that has to be allowed.  Although if your employee is spending an inordinate and unexplained amount of time in the bathroom, that might warrant further discussion.

(Not sure how to dig into these issues, we can help.)

As long as you are ensuring you offer the breaks required for safety purposes and are meeting minimum standards found in employment law or collective agreements, you are going to be good 90% of the time.   And for the remaining 10% of the time, ask good questions, get the answers you need, and call us for assistance moving forward.