Grabbing a coffee or something to eat. Ducking to the loo. Smoko. Many employers forget that their employees are entitled to breaks throughout the day. In fact, most Australian Awards and Agreements have paid breaks. Businesses not only need to give breaks, they also need to prove that employees took them.
Unions are targeting businesses over the issue, launching legal action against major companies claiming workers didn’t get a rest. One claim is aiming to win more than $100 million. Missing a break is pretty minor – they’re typically only ten minutes. But if you multiply ten minutes’ worth of labour, across hundreds of different employees , it can end up being an enormous amount of money.
With a lot of cash on the line, how can you make sure you give workers their entitlements? There are three steps to staying compliant.
1. Understand Different Types of Breaks
There are actually many different types of breaks. All can either be paid breaks or unpaid. Each type has completely different allowances, costs, and time. It’s crucial to understand exactly what type of break your workers are entitled to under their award or agreement. Giving a worker the wrong type of break is a very easy way to underpay them. For Fair Work’s complete explanation, click here, but for an overview, see below.
Most awards have built-in rest breaks for employees who work certain shift lengths. They’re also called crib breaks, rest pauses, and tea breaks (particularly if you’re playing cricket). Typically, workers are entitled to a 10 minute paid breaks after a few hours of work, and another a few hours later. However, this varies depending on the award.
Meal breaks are usually longer than a rest (30 to 60 minutes) and are normally unpaid. This will allow employees to eat a meal while they’re off the clock. Employees get paid a penalty rate if they miss their meal break until they get one. For example, think of a worker who was supposed to have lunch at 12 pm but doesn’t get to take it until 3 pm. The worker will be paid a penalty rate for those three hours that they were supposed to have had lunch.
Breaks Between Shifts
Awards and agreements will often have minimum time-off periods between shifts. For example, if an employee works late, finishing at midnight, they might not be allowed to start work on the early shift at 6am. The amount of time varies between different agreements. Sometimes, casuals won’t have to be given a minimum amount of time off, but you should look at the relevant agreement or award to see if this is the case. Employees who work overtime are often entitled to longer minimum time-off too.
A split shift isn’t a shift break, but it can be easy to confuse the two. Instead, a split shift is when an employee works at two different times throughout the day. A good example of a split shift is an employee being asked to work in the morning and afternoon, but not during the day. The employee can go home between these shifts. A split shift allowance will usually need to be paid to compensate the employee for the inconvenience of having a break between their work.
2. Prove Paid Breaks & Unpaid Breaks Were Taken
Proving whether or not workers have taken their breaks is difficult. Without proper record keeping, it can be difficult to show exactly when workers had a rest. Employees might not record their 10-minute break, instead just recording the hours they arrived and left work. Old, paper-based timesheets are particularly prone to this issue.
There are a number of ‘best practice’ ways to prove that employees took their breaks:
The best way to prove that your employees were able to take their breaks is to have strong records which show they were able to clock off. Digital time and attendance systems can record the exact time employees took a break and came back to work with the touch of a button. This also proves the times to the minute.
The key factor is an audit trail that shows it was the employee who clocked the break. A simple way to prove this is to give them a unique passcode, as well as use biometric identification. Systems like Tanda can take photos of employees as they clock in. This removes the potential for an employee to say, “it wasn’t me!”, helping you stay compliant with paid breaks.
Another way to confirm rests were taken is to ask employees to acknowledge they took their breaks when they submit their timesheets. This is the best option if you’re not using digital time clocks that can clock people in and out when they take a rest. Digital time clocks aren’t suited to every business for a variety of reasons.
When you ask employees if they had their breaks on their timesheet, the way you word the question is important. Ideally, the more specific you are, the better. For example, if they are entitled to a 10-minute rest each day, you could ask “did you receive your 10-minute paid breaks each day this week?”. This prevents the employee from saying “well I didn’t even know how long my break was supposed to be!”.
3. Simplify Your Scheduling
Use Auto Break Rules
Many employees are going to be a bit sloppy at clocking in and out for a rest. Fair enough too, it’s annoying. One way to manage this is to have auto breaks. These are automatically scheduled breaks. If the employee doesn’t clock out, you’ll be able to see they didn’t clock out and let them know.
Notifications For Managers
It is helpful to alert managers that an employee is due for a rest. This helps them to remind employees they need to rest. It also reduces the risk for your business.