Under the Organization of Working Time Act 1997 every employee in Ireland has a legal entitlement to breaks during their working day (or night) and is entitled to have clearly defined rest periods between their working days/nights.

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Under the Organization of Working Time Act 1997 a rest period is defined as any time that is not working time.

In general an employee is entitled to a 15 minute break after the completion of 4.5 hours of work. If the employee is working a shift of 6 hours then he or she is entitled to a 30 minute break (the first break of 15 minutes can be included in this 30 minute allocation).

The employer is not obliged to pay employees for these break periods and they are not included when counting the total amount of time that the employee has worked.

The regulations vary slightly for different categories of employees – for instance, shop employees who work more than 6 hours at a time are entitled to a break of one consecutive hour between the hours of 11:30 and 14:30 if their work schedule incorporates this period.

Employees are entitled to 11 consecutive hours of rest in a 24 hour period – on top of this an employee should receive 24 hours of consecutive rest in every 7 day period and this 24 hour allocation should follow an 11 hour rest period. Where an employer does not give his or her employee a full 24 hour consecutive rest period throughout the course of one week he or she must give two of these 24 hour rest periods in the following week.  This rest period, unless otherwise stated, should include a Sunday.

Not all employees are governed by the break and rest period rules described above. Members of An Garda Síochána, The Defence Forces and employees who manage their own working hours are exempt.  Family employees on farms or in private homes are also excluded from the Organization of Working Time Act 1997 directives.

The working terms and conditions for people under the age of 18 are regulated by the Protection of Young Persons (Employment) Act 1996.

In exceptional circumstances or emergencies an employer is exempt from providing the above mentioned rest periods but only where he or she provides equivalent compensatory rest. Where the rest period is postponed the employer must allow the employee to take the compensatory rest within a reasonable period of time. Employees working in transport activities or certain categories of civil protection services are exempt from the statutory break regulations specified above (the equivalent compensatory rest rules do not apply for these employees).

Employers should be aware that employees have 6 months to make a complaint regarding breaks and rest periods (in certain circumstance this period can be extended to 12 months).

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