Interpretation Guidelines Manual British Columbia Employment Standards Act and Regulations

EMPLOYMENT STANDARDS ACT - PART 4 - HOURS OF WORK AND OVERTIME

ESA Section 32 – Meal breaks


Contents:

Summary
Text of Legislation
Policy Interpretation
Related Information


Summary

This section specifies the maximum time an employee can work without a meal break, the minimum length of the break and under what circumstances the break must be paid. 


Text of Legislation

32. (1) An employer must ensure

(a) that no employee works more than 5 consecutive hours without a meal break, and

(b) that each meal break lasts at least 1/2 hour.

(2) An employer who requires an employee to work or be available for work during a meal break must count the meal break as time worked by the employee.


Policy Interpretation

Subsection (1)

Employers must give meal breaks to employees to ensure they do not work more than 5 consecutive hours without an opportunity for a break. There is no requirement to pay an employee for this meal break unless they perform work during the meal break, or are available to perform work as outlined in subsection (2).

A meal break is a continuous period of at least one-half hour during which the employee is allowed to eat. Informal “coffee breaks”, or breaks of less than ½ hour, are not considered meal breaks for purposes of this section. These informal breaks cannot be added up and substituted for a continuous ½-hour meal break as required by this section.

Depending on the length of the shift, or how the breaks are scheduled, the employer may be required to give more than one meal break per shift.

Example

Theresa is scheduled to work a 10-hour shift commencing at 7:00 am. She is given a ½-hour meal break from 9:30 am to 10:00 am.

The employer must schedule another ½-hour meal break by 3:00 pm in order that Theresa does not work more than 5 consecutive hours.

Subsection (2)

Certain work situations require that employees be available for work, or actually perform work, through their meal break. If an employer allows an employee to work at any time during a scheduled meal break, the employer must count the entire meal break as time worked for that day and include the time worked in payroll records as noted in s.28 of the Act.

Example

Gerry works the night shift at a gas station from midnight to six am. The employer, Joe, explained that no one was available to give Gerry a meal break, however, Joe told Gerry to eat his lunch on the job. Because Gerry did not receive a ½ hour meal break free from work, Gerry would be paid for the entire 6 hours he was at work.

This subsection ensures the meal break is considered time worked when an employee is required to be available for work during the break. An employee is available for work when an employer requires the employee to remain on company property during a meal break.

Employees covered by a collective agreement

Under s.3 of the Act, where a collective agreement contains any provision respecting hours of work or overtime, the provisions of this section do not apply. If a collective agreement does not contain any provision respecting hours of work or overtime, Part 4 except s.37 is deemed to be incorporated in the collective agreement as part of its terms.

Where there is a collective agreement, the enforcement of matters relating to Part 4, Hours of Work and Overtime, is through the grievance procedure, not through the enforcement provisions of the Act.

Under the Employment Standards Regulation, certain employees are exempt from this Part in its entirety, or certain sections of this Part of the Act. See Related Information below.


Related Information

Related sections of the Act or Regulation

ESA

ESR

Other
See Employment Standards Factsheets

Factsheets

Hours of Work and Overtime

Collective Agreements and the Employment Standards Act

Commissioned Salespeople

High Technology Professionals