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Eating Periods

This workbook has been prepared to assist employers and employees in understanding some of their obligations and rights under the Employment Standards Act (ESA) and its regulations. It does not take the place of the ESA and its regulations and it should not be considered to offer any legal advice on your particular situation.

Most employees are entitled to an eating period during their shift. The length and timing of the eating period (meal break) is somewhat flexible, recognizing work demands. Meal breaks, whether paid or unpaid, are not considered working time and are therefore not counted toward the limits on hours of work, overtime pay or minimum wage.


An employee must not work for more than five hours in a row without getting a 30-minute eating period free from work. However, you and your employee can agree that the eating period can be split into two periods within every five consecutive hours. Together, these periods must total a minimum of 30 minutes. This agreement can be verbal or in writing.

Meal breaks are unpaid unless the employee's employment contract requires payment. Even if the employer pays for meal breaks, the employee must be free from work during the eating period.

Non-Eating Period Breaks

There is no requirement to give your employees coffee breaks or any other kind of break other than eating periods.

Time spent by an employee on a coffee break or other non-eating period break during which he or she is required to remain at the workplace is considered to be working time under the Employment Standards Act (ESA). If the employee is free to leave the workplace during the coffee break or other type of break, it is not considered to be working time.

Eating Periods Checklist

Do your employees get breaks other than meal breaks?

Yes No

You answered 'No', please refer to the Overtime Pay section of this workbook.

Are they required to remain at the workplace?

Yes No

You answered 'No', please refer to the Overtime Pay section of this workbook.

Do you treat the time on break as working time for purposes of the ESA?

Yes No

Please verify that:

All of your employees work no more than five hours in a row before receiving a 30-minute meal break.

Yes No

Employees who are either splitting the 30 minutes have agreed to this, either in writing or verbally, and both periods are taken within the five hours.

Yes No

Employees are free from work during the meal break(s).

Yes No
 

Questions? Call the Employment Standards Call Centre at 1-800-531-5551


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