This article was written by Verushka Reddy, a Director and Erwyn Durman, a Candidate Attorney at Norton Rose Fulbright South Africa

Employers and employees should be aware of the following twelve main principles in relation to rest breaks at work.

       Rest Breaks

  1. Rest breaks are regulated by the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, 1997. The Act provides for three types: daily rest breaks, weekly rest breaks and meal breaks.
  2. These rest breaks must be provided to all employees except senior managerial employees, sales staff who travel to customers and regulate their own hours, and employees who work less than 24 hours per month for an employer.

     Meal intervals

  3. An employee must have a meal interval of one continuous hour, for which they are not paid, after five hours of work.
  4. An employer may require or permit an employee to perform a duty during a meal interval, only if that duty cannot be left unattended or performed by another employee.
  5. If an employee takes a meal interval in excess of 75 minutes the employee should be paid, for the period that exceeds 75 minutes, unless the employee lives on the premises. The purpose of this requirement is to prevent employers from taking advantage of employees by requiring them to take an extended work rest break during the course of a shift or work day, but not paying them for this ‘time off’. Similarly, if an employee is required to be on standby during the meal interval or a part of it, the employee must be paid for the duration of the standby period.
  6. An employer and employee can enter into a written agreement to reduce the meal interval to a minimum of 30 minutes. By written agreement the meal interval can be dispensed with if an employee works less than six hours a day.

    Daily rest periods

  7. Employees are entitled to a daily rest break of a minimum of 12 consecutive hours between the end of the day’s work and the start of the next day’s work.
  8. By written agreement, daily rest breaks may be reduced to no less than 10 hours if the employee lives on the premises and has a meal interval for longer than three hours.
  9. Smoke breaks are not provided for in labour law. Smoking in the workplace is regulated by the Tobacco Products Control Regulations which places a duty on employers to protect non-smoking employees by ensuring that there is a designated smoking area. Smoke breaks do not have to be allowed.
  10. If an employer does allow for smoke breaks outside of the designated work rest break, the employer has a discretion to manage the duration and frequency of the smoke breaks. The regulations provide that an employer must have a written policy on smoking in the workplace.

    Weekly rest periods

  11. Employees are also allowed a weekly rest break of at least 36 consecutive hours, which includes a Sunday unless otherwise agreed.
  12. A weekly rest break may be reduced by written agreement to a minimum of 60 consecutive hours per fortnight, and can be reduced by up to eight hours in any week if the rest break the in following week is extended proportionately.

These twelve principles apply to most industries. An example of an industry to which the above provisions do not apply, is the air service industry.  The duty periods, rest periods and days free for these employees are regulated by the South African Civil Aviation Technical Standards 121.

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