9.07.2019

Give me a break… Managing Rest and Meal Breaks

From 6 May 2019, the statutory regime around rest and meal breaks in the Employment Relations Act (Act) has returned to a prescriptive approach.  The changes replace the more flexible provisions that had been introduced by the previous National-led government in 2014.

The statutory changes apply to all employers, with limited exceptions for national security (GCSB and SIS) and essential services (which include water supply, energy production/supply, certain port services, certain air transport and port services, prisons, hospitals amongst others).

From 6 May, the duration of an employee’s work period will determine the minimum entitlement to rest and meal breaks. For example, if an employee’s work period is more than 6 hours but not more than 8 hours, the employee is entitled to two 10-minute paid rest breaks, and one 30-minute unpaid meal break. 

While most employers will accept that there are potential productivity, safety and morale benefits  in ensuring employees have sufficient time to rest and refresh during a work period, for manufacturing businesses (and other sectors), the issue of break timing, however, could be a headache. It may not always be possible to have all staff ‘down tools’ and cease production at the same time. The Act recognises this issue.

The starting point is that the timing of the rest and meal breaks should be agreed where possible between employer and employee in good faith. If there is no agreement, the timing is fixed by the Act, generally at a mid-point during the relevant work period.  There is some leeway for an employer in the absence of agreement: the provisions allow for the timing to be moderated by what is reasonable and practicable in the employer’s business.

If this is the case for your business, take note: the greater the departure from the timing of the breaks from a mid-point, the greater the need for justification to show that it was not reasonable and practicable to take the break at, or closer to, the times set in the Act.  The provision does not allow for an employer to unilaterally set break times without consultation or without sufficient justification.

Another common question that we’ve regularly encountered is whether or not the rest and meal breaks can be bundled together (i.e. for a 7.5 hour work period, the employee is entitled to two paid 10-minute rest breaks, and one unpaid 30 minute meal break, but instead the employee requests a 50-minute break during the work period). So long as there is agreement, this appears to be permitted by the legislation.

How do employers demonstrate compliance with these changes?

Where there is agreement, this should be documented. Usually, this would be in the employee’s employment agreement, but could be in a separate agreement, roster or break notebook.

The legislation does not explicitly require that break times be recorded, but we consider that this would be prudent for compliance purposes.  

In the worst case scenario, the Act does provide for penalties for employers who do not comply with the new prescriptive regime. If you have not already, we suggest this is an opportune time to update your employment agreements.

If you have any questions around breaks, or anything employment related, please pick up the phone and give our Employment Law Team a call: +64 9 375 8700 or email Sam.Houliston@heskethhenry.co.nz

Do you need expert legal advice?
Contact the expert team at Hesketh Henry.
Kerry
Media contact - Kerry Browne
Please contact Kerry with any media enquiries and with any questions related to marketing or sponsorships on +64 9 375 8747 or via email.

Related Articles / Insights & Opinion

Clarity on Liquidated Damages following Termination
The United Kingdom Supreme Court in Triple Point Technology Inc v PTT Public Company Ltd [2021] UKSC 29 has clarified the operation of liquidated damages clauses in the event of termination.  The dec...
Is your will in draft form?  High Court refuses to exercise its discretionary power to validate a draft will notwithstanding beneficiaries’ consent
The High Court’s recent decision in Re: An application to validate the will of Olive Ruby Piper [2021] NZHC 534 serves as a valuable reminder to make sure that your estate planning documents are...
16.09.2021 Posted in Family & Trust Wills Estates
New Fair Trading Act provisions spark need to review small trade contracts
The Fair Trading Amendment Bill received Royal Assent on 16 August 2021 and is now the Fair Trading Amendment Act 2021 (Amendment Act).  The Amendment Act amends the Fair Trading Act 1986 (FTA), with...
Employment Relations Authority Finds Dismissal of Unvaccinated Border Worker to be Justified
On 1 September 2021, The Employment Relations Authority (Authority) determined in GF v New Zealand Customs Service [2021] NZERA 382, that the New Zealand Customs Service (Customs) was justified in its...
10.09.2021 Posted in Business Advice & COVID-19 & Employment
AML/CFT guidance with the High Court’s decision in Reserve Bank of New Zealand and TSB Bank Limited
On 31 August 2021, the High Court of Wellington released its decision on the Reserve Bank of New Zealand v TSB Bank Limited.
09.09.2021 Posted in AML/CFT & Banking and Finance
Supreme Court asserts Employment Relations Authority exclusive jurisdiction
The Supreme Court has recently issued a significant judgment clarifying that the Employment Relations Authority (Authority) has exclusive jurisdiction over claims arising in a “work context”. In d...
09.09.2021 Posted in Business Advice & Employment
How much does one truly deserve?
A critical analysis of the New Zealand and Australian High Courts' approach to quantum meruit claims within the construction industry
06.09.2021 Posted in Construction & Regulatory
Send us an enquiry
For expert legal advice, please complete the form below or call us on (09) 375 8700.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
-->