Work Break Law (Ontario)
Employment Standards Act breaks are known officially as “eating periods“.
Under the Employment Standards Act, employers must provide one thirty-minute break from work after every five hours of work.
Employers are allowed to provide more breaks if they want, but they cannot provide less than one thirty-minute break from work after every five hours of work. For example, an employer can provide an employment contract that provides several ten-minute breaks plus a thirty-minute break per day. If the parties have not agreed, however, to extra breaks, then all an employee is entitled to is one thirty-minute break every five hours.
The Employment Standards Act does not contain a requirement that an employer must provide any breaks other one thirty-minute break from work after every five hours of work. This means that, by law, no employer is required to provide coffee breaks, smoke breaks or any other kind of quick break.
To be clear, all an employer has to do in Ontario is to provide one thirty-minute break every five hours. This is the full extent of Ontario break laws.
In most instances, an employer needs to provide only one break, at around lunch. For example, if Beth works 9 am-5 pm, she has to be given a break at any time before 2 pm. This is the only break Beth would be entitled to as per the law in Ontario.
However, if, for example, Mary worked from 9 am-9 pm, she would be entitled to 2 breaks because she would be working for five hours, and then another five hours.
Can an employer dictate when a break must be taken?
Yes, an employer can make a rule when a break must be taken so long as the break is before the end of five continuous hours of work. Otherwise, the employer must provide a break at exactly five hours into work.
Must employers schedule breaks?
Under the Employment Standards Act, employers do not have to schedule a specific time for breaks. For instance, employers can tell employees to take their break whenever they are not busy.
What happens if an employee works during his or her break?
Unless the employee receives an uninterrupted 30-minute break, he or she is not considered to have received his or her break, and he or she can take another thirty-minute break. To be clear, if there is any interruption in an employee’s break, he or she is entitled to another thirty-minute break any time before the end of five hours from the start of the day.
Can an employer split breaks?
Yes, if the employer and employee agree in writing or orally, an employee’s 30-minute break can be split into two 15-minute breaks every five hours. To be sure, an employee has to yes to such a split break, and they have the right to refuse.
Are breaks paid or unpaid?
Under the Employment Standards Act, employers don’t have to pay for breaks. However, like all employment standards, all employers can pay employees for breaks if they choose.
What about bathroom break laws?
There are no statutory employment or labour laws in Ontario or Canada regarding bathroom breaks, and no one, to my knowledge, has ever sued about bathroom breaks, so there is no known common law.
However, I would argue that the common law, by default, imposes a duty on employers to provide bathroom breaks as needed.
To that effect, the Ontario bathroom break law would be this in case someone ever sued for the issue:
Employers must reasonably accommodate bathroom breaks up to the point of undue hardship.Jeff Dutton
The fact is, bathroom breaks are a bodily requirement, and an employer has a duty to accommodate an employee’s bodily requirement much like it has a duty to accommodate disabilities under the Human Rights Code, up to the point of undue hardship. Moreover, employers have a duty to provide a healthy workplace, and it’s not healthy to ‘hold it in’ for five hours, so it’s reasonable to argue that bathroom breaks are a health and safety requirement.
How many bathroom breaks are permitted and for how long? The answer is, “whatever is reasonable”. If, on the other hand, someone takes an unreasonable number of bathroom breaks, then the employer should inquire if there is a disability that needs to be accommodated.
What happens if there is a dispute about work breaks?
If an employee has a work break complaint, then they should contact the Ministry of Labour who can issue an order on the issue if it finds the employer broke the law.
Jeff is a lawyer in Toronto who works for a technology startup. Jeff is a frequent lecturer on employment law and is the author of an employment law textbook and various trade journal articles. Jeff is interested in Canadian business, technology and law, and this blog is his platform to share his views and tips in those areas.