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Eating Periods

  • Issued: September 2010
  • Content last reviewed: January 2018

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 (meal break) during their shift. The length and timing of the eating period is somewhat flexible, recognizing work demands. Meal breaks, whether paid or unpaid, are generally not considered working time and are therefore not typically counted toward the limits on hours of work, overtime pay or minimum wage. For more information, visit the “Eating Periods” section of the Hours of Work & Overtime Tool.

An employee must not work for more than five hours in a row without getting a 30-minute eating period free from work. However, an employer and 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 oral, electronic 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 they are required to remain at the workplace is considered to be working time under the Employment Standards Act. 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

Employers, please verify that:

  • Your employees work no more than five hours in a row before receiving a 30-minute meal break.
  • Employee(s) who are splitting the 30-minute eating period into two periods have agreed to this, either electronically, in writing or orally, and that both periods are taken within five consecutive hours.
  • Employee(s) are free from work during the meal break(s), even if time spent on the eating period is paid by the employer.
  • Break time is treated as work time for employee(s) who are given additional non-eating period break(s) – such as coffee breaks – if they are required to remain at the workplace during the break.

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