When Are Employees Entitled to Paid Breaks?

A rest break is an integral part of a work day. It allows for employees to take a break during their set hours of work. Rest breaks are also commonly referred to as tea breaks or pauses. These breaks can be paid or unpaid. There are set rules and regulations surrounding the length of breaks and the payment process. Hence, it is important for both employers and employees to understand their entitlements to breaks.  

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Employers have an obligation under the Workplace Health and Safety Act 2011 (NSW) to ensure that employees are safe at work. This includes a safe physical environment as well as the positive emotional and psychological well being of the employee. To ensure that the employer has created a safe workplace for the employee mentally, rest breaks may be required. Additionally, an employee’s employment or enterprise agreement may also set out the employer’s obligation to offer employees rest breaks. 

Breaks between shifts

Employees are entitled to set paid breaks depending on the number of hours they have worked. Employment agreements will outline the minimum amount of time off allowed during a shift. Furthermore, each industry has different minimum break requirements

Most employees must be allowed to take breaks during their shifts. This includes paid rest breaks and unpaid meal breaks. Paid rest breaks differ from a meal break which is a longer period of uninterrupted and unpaid rest that allows the employee to consume a meal. Generally, one rest break will be taken in the first half of the work hours and the second taken in the second half of the work hours. Two rest breaks will be given unless a second meal break is provided.


The following table sets out the rest breaks entitled to an employee. 

Hours workedRest break (paid)Meal break (unpaid) 
Less than 4 hoursNo rest breakNo meal break
4+ hours but less than 5 hours1x 10 minute rest breakNo meal break
5+ hours but less than 7 hours1x 10 minute rest break1x 30-60 minutes meal break
7+ hours but less than 10 hours2x 10 minute rest breaks: One taken in the first half of the shift and another taken in the second half of the shift1x 30-60 minutes meal break
10+ hours2x 10 minute rest breaks: One taken in the first half of the shift and another taken in the second half of the shift2x 30-60 minutes meal break

Other entitled breaks

Employees are entitled to various forms of leave, which vary depending on whether they are casual or permanent. These include:

  • Annual leave
  • Public holidays
  • Personal (sick)/carer’s leave
  • Long service leave
  • Family and domestic violence leave
  • Compassionate leave
  • Community service leave

In conclusion, it is important for both the employer and employee to understand what rest breaks an employee is entitled to. If you have any further questions, contact a lawyer today.

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