Anyone who works needs breaks now and then – the legislator has also recognized that. Every employer must adhere to the prescribed break regulations. Statutory break time provides protection against exploitation and exhaustion. In this way, health should also be protected. Break regulations mean that companies are obliged to observe breaks – and employees must also comply with them. We explain what exactly the break regulation prescribes and how the statutory break time is regulated..
➠ Contents: What to expect
Break regulation: legal protection prevents exhaustion
The regulation of breaks is prescribed by law. This ensures that employees have enough time to relax during the workday. How long the statutory break period is depends on the daily working hours. The Working Hours Act states in this regard in § 4:
Work must be interrupted by pre-established rest breaks of at least 30 minutes if the working time exceeds 6 hours and up to 9 hours, and 45 minutes if the working time exceeds 9 hours in total. The rest breaks pursuant to sentence 1 may be divided into time segments of at least 15 minutes each. Employees may not be employed for more than 6 consecutive hours without a rest break.
Break means complete release from work duties In a certain time. It must be at least a quarter of an hour and is due at the latest after 6 hours of work. These are rest breaks that are deducted from working time and not paid for. Depending on the working hours, these statutory break times result:
- 4 hours of work: No break
- 5 hours of work: No break
- 6 hours of work: no break
The purpose of the break regulations is, to guarantee the rest of the employee. Thus, after the break, the concentration necessary for work should be ensured again. At the same time, health is to be protected in order to prevent overwork or exploitation by the employer. Therefore, the statutory regulation of breaks does not only mean a right to a break, but is at the same time an obligation to take a break.
Difference between rest break, rest time and operational break
With reference to the break regulation different terms are used, which are similar, but should be differentiated absolutely. A rest break is just not the same as a rest period and the company break in turn is also something different. For a better understanding, let’s distinguish the terms:
- Rest break
The rest break is the break within the working time. It serves the need for recreation, counts as the employee’s free time and can be freely arranged. You can also leave the company premises – but the statutory accident insurance is suspended for this period.
- Rest time
Rest period is the time for rest between two consecutive working days. § Section 5 of the Working Hours Act stipulates eleven hours without interruption for this purpose. If you have worked until 10 p.m., you may not work again until 9 a.m. the next day. However, there are some exceptions to this rule.
- company break
A company break refers to an unscheduled interruption of working time. For example, if a production plant is at a standstill due to a power outage or other technical or organizational disruptions are present. Since this form of break is taken involuntarily and the employee basically makes his or her labor available, the company break is paid for.
Statutory break times: When and how long?
The break regulations contain clear rules on rest periods for employees, but do not provide detailed specifications on the individual arrangement of statutory break times. Thus, employers and employees have some leeway in which the regulation can be adjusted. This applies in particular to the location and length of breaks:
Location of the break
Breaks must be fixed in advance, i.e. agreed with the employer. This is important because it means that, if necessary, employees’ break times can be coordinated accordingly. Employees are therefore not entitled to decide completely freely on the timing of the time off. However, it must be ensured that no more than six hours are worked without a break.
Companies can, for example, allow a breakfast break between 8 and 9 a.m. and 9 p.m.30 o’clock and a lunch break between 12.30 and 13.Allow 30 o’clock. In this case, the individual breaks must be within the time frame. However, the works council has a right of co-determination with regard to the situation.
Length of break
A minimum specification for the duration of the statutory break time is prescribed in the break regulation. For a lunch break, however, this may be too short for a meal – especially if, for example, you have to wait in the canteen or part of the break has already been used for the breakfast break.
This is how employers are allowed to set longer breaks within the scope of their right to direct employees. Thus, employees may take a lunch break of approximately one hour. However, the minimum breaks may not be undercut. In addition, employers have a duty to monitor compliance with breaks. This also applies if employees themselves want to skip breaks.
Exception to the break regulation
There may be exceptions to the general break regulations. These may be regulated in a collective bargaining agreement or a company agreement. § Section 7 of the Working Hours Act specifies transport and shift operations that can divide the rest breaks into shorter periods in a deviating break regulation. Instead of 15 minutes, for example, a five-minute break can be taken at the end of each hour.
Other exceptions to statutory break periods can be found in § 18 of the Working Hours Act. This paragraph regulates to whom the provisions of the law – and thus also the specifications on break regulations – do not apply. These include:
- Executive employees
- Chief physicians
- Heads of public services and their representatives
- Employees who live in a domestic community with the persons entrusted to them and who educate, care for or look after them independently
- The liturgical area of churches and religious communities
- Employees under 18 years of age (the Youth Employment Protection Act applies here)
- Crew members on merchant ships
Do part-time employees have fewer breaks??
In principle, the Working Hours Act applies regardless of whether you work full-time or part-time. Only the daily working time is decisive – not the total time within a week.
A simple example: If you work 6 hours a day in a 5-day week, you are not entitled to statutory break times. On the other hand, anyone who works 7 hours every day in a 4-day week must be relieved of duties for at least 30 minutes under break regulations.
In practice, however, employers usually allow appropriate break arrangements even for shorter work shifts.
Special regulations for young people
Special break regulations apply to young employees and trainees under 18 years of age. Depending on their age, young people already have to take a break after 4.5 hours. Section 11 of the Youth Employment Protection Act (JArbSchG) applies here for young employees between 15 and 17 years of age. It applies:
- 4.5 to 6 hours: 30 minutes break
- 6 to 8 hours: 60 minutes break
Young people may not work more than 8 hours per day. The law also stipulates that breaks must be no earlier than one hour after the start of work and no later than one hour before the end of the workday.
Violations of the break regulations – whether under the Occupational Health and Safety Act or the Youth Employment Protection Act – are punished as administrative offenses and can result in a fine of up to 15.000 Euro will be charged.
Special cases: Break regulation in catering and standby
Among the industries that can be an exception to the general break rule is the catering industry. Here, operational necessities often make it unavoidable to regulate employees’ free times more individually. For example, it is very difficult to specify a specific, regular time for breaks in advance. In the restaurant and hotel industry, the workload cannot be predicted so accurately.
Fluctuating guest volume may lead to a large rush at actual break time. Seasonal variations (summer time, public holidays, festive occasions such as weddings) also cause differences in the working day. In practice, therefore, breaks are taken when the activity slows down a bit. Keeping legal break times is therefore difficult.
Companies should document exactly, That the break regulation is respected. This can help avoid disputes later on.
Breaks in on-call duty
For employees on standby, what doesn’t count as working time doesn’t need a regulated break either. A precise distinction must therefore be made between the different types of readiness:
- On-call duty
The employee is on call, but he or she does not have to be at the workplace or a specified location. The only condition is that in the event of an operation, he must be at the workplace as soon as possible. If there is no on-call duty, the time of on-call duty is considered rest time. Thus, there is no need to set specific break times.
- On-call service
In contrast to on-call duty, in the case of on-call duty, the employee must be at a pre-determined location. Since the entire period of on-call duty is considered normal working time, the employer must grant appropriate breaks here.
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