Meal and tea breaks

Understanding meal and rest breaks

Having correct and appropriate meal and rest intervals is both an occupational health and safety issue and an award entitlement. Employers and managers have a responsibility to arrange such breaks so as to not adversely impact on patient care

What is my meal break entitlement?

Meal breaks are unpaid time (minimum of 30 minutes, maximum of 1 hour) when you are able to leave your work area or facility, without being required to be available for recall or advice.  Generally workers should not work more than five hours without having a 30 minute meal break.

My shift was so busy that I could not take my meal break. Am I paid for working through the unpaid meal time?

In the public sector, an employee who is unable to take a meal break shall be paid for the meal break at the ordinary rate plus 50 per cent. In the same situation in the private sector the meal break may be paid at ordinary time (check the enterprise agreement that applies to your workplace). If you come under the Nurses Award 2010, and you are unable to take your meal break after working five hours, you are paid overtime until you can take the break.

My employer has directed me not to leave my workplace during my meal break in case I am needed, should I be paid for this time?

If you are required to be available for recall or advice during the rostered meal interval and directed not to leave the facility, you must be paid for your meal break. This payment is at ordinary time rates when it is a regular requirement, and is also called ‘crib time’.

I’m a registered nurse, what is my entitlement to tea breaks?

Tea breaks or rest intervals are paid time of 10 minutes duration. Registered nurses are allowed two rest intervals in any rostered shift. Some agreements allow for the rest breaks to be combined as one 20-minute break, or for 10 minutes to be added to the meal break.

I’m an enrolled nurse, what is my entitlement to tea breaks?

In the public sector enrolled nurses now have the same entitlement as registered nurses. Enrolled nurses’ entitlement to tea breaks in the private sector is often more specific, such as ‘employees are entitled to a 10-minute break in each four hours worked or part thereof’. This means that any shift longer than five hours should have two paid rest breaks.

I’m a personal care worker, what is my entitlement to tea breaks?

Personal care workers have the same entitlement to tea breaks as enrolled nurses.

I can’t remember the last time I had a meal break – what should I do?

If you are experiencing difficulty arranging or taking appropriate breaks, you should discuss this entitlement with your nurse unit manager or immediate supervisors. Once again, you should check your entitlements under your enterprise bargaining agreement. If your workload is such that you are not relieved for breaks, you should report this via an incident form, or to your Health and Safety Rep. You must claim your entitlements to overtime on your time sheet and have the overtime approved by your supervisor.