Author: Lehanne Bleumink, Gold Seal HR Services Manager

We receive a number of calls to the HR helpline regarding breaks and whether they are required. Breaks give employees a chance to rest or have a meal and return to their work more refreshed and ready to tackle the tasks assigned. A break for a meal is not a condition provided under the National Employment Standards; however modern awards usually include an entitlement to paid and unpaid rest breaks and meal breaks. An employer is also required to comply with relevant workplace health and safety obligations. With many employees working from home, it needs to be remembered that these breaks should still be taken and encouraged by managers.

Rest breaks and meal breaks
A rest break allows an employee to rest for a short period of time during working hours; they are often referred to as ‘tea breaks’. A meal break is a longer period of uninterrupted rest that allows the employee to eat a meal. Awards usually include the length of the breaks, when they need to be taken and the rules about payment. The Banking Finance & Insurance Award 2020 is no exception.

The Banking Finance & Insurance Award 2020 includes the following under clause 14 Breaks:

14.1 Meal breaks

  • Meal breaks will be no less than 30 minutes, as determined by the employer.
  • An employee will not be called upon to work in excess of 5 hours without a meal break. Where the daily hours to be worked are 6 hours or less, an employee may apply to work the 6 hours without a break for a meal by agreement with the employer.
  • In emergency circumstances a meal break may be deferred by mutual agreement.

14.2 Unpaid rest breaks
All employees will be allowed a rest break, or breaks during a working day, at a time or times and in a manner agreed between the employer and employee. If no agreement is reached, the rest break will be determined by the employer.

It is important to note, there is no requirement to provide a meal break for an ‘award free’ employee (e.g. a high-income earner who is considered award free). Provision for a meal break may be included in an employment agreement, although there is no statutory obligation to include such a term. The employer, however, would need to consider the workplace health and safety consequences of employees working long hours without a break.

Breaks are essential to employee health and wellbeing. While it can be difficult to manage breaks to make sure you are meeting both the rules of the award and business needs, they should be rostered in accordance with the award as much as possible.

In the current climate we work in, where flexible working arrangements are becoming more and more common, being flexible with the taking of breaks as much as possible, while still operating in accordance with the award and business needs, is important. Considering so many continue to work from home, it is still important to ensure employees are taking breaks, it can be too easy to just keep working without noticing the time.

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