New Meal and Rest Breaks Bill
General / 25 May 2017
The Employment Relations (Restoring Kiwis’ Right to a Break at Work) Amendment Bill (Bill) which proposes to reinstate workers’ rights to meal and rest breaks (breaks) at work was introduced to Parliament by Labour List MP Sue Moroney on 11 May 2017.
The Employment Relations Act 2000 (Act) provides, in summary, for reasonable rest and meal breaks, to give employees an opportunity for rest, refreshment and to attend to personal matters, taking into account the employee’s work period. Breaks must be at times and for durations agreed between the parties, or failing agreement, as determined by the employer.
In 2014 the Act was changed to improve flexibility for parties to an employment relationship, where previously the law on breaks was more prescriptive. The Act also currently provides that an employer can impose reasonable restrictions on an employee’s breaks where necessary, for example, specifying where breaks are to be taken, and if an employee needs to remain aware of or perform some work duties during their breaks. Rest breaks are to be paid, and meal breaks may be unpaid.
The Bill seeks to reinstate the Labour Party’s prescriptive minimum standards approach to breaks. If enacted into law, employers would need to provide the stipulated breaks at times agreed by the parties, or if no agreement could be reached, as follows:
If an employer failed to provided breaks as set out above, a penalty could be awarded against them.
What does this mean for you?
If the Bill is passed into law, some businesses will find it difficult to meet the prescriptive requirements. It was due to challenges with the prescriptive requirements that the Act was changed to its current form. For example, employers reported struggling to provide breaks for employees who work alone, and for whom cover cannot be provided.
If you would like advice regarding meal and rest breaks, please contact us.
Disclaimer: We remind you that while this article provides commentary on employment law and health and safety topics, it should not be used as a substitute for legal or professional advice for specific situations. Please seek legal advice from your lawyer for any questions specific to your workplace.