Companies shouldn’t try to control what their employees do or the languages they speak during breaks, says an employment law expert.
The problem was highlighted this week after a former employee called a Christchurch cleaning company to demanding employees speak only English in his rest room.
Alastair Espie, senior partner at Duncan Cotterill, said he was illegal to discriminate against an employee because of their ethnicityof which language was a part.
“Companies in general should not try to regulate what their employees do during breaks, which allow workers to rest, eat and refresh themselves.
“It’s not up to employers to dictate how their workers spend it,” he said.
However, there were a few exceptions.
“Companies could reasonably restrict employees from drinking alcohol, particularly if there are safety concerns,” he said.
“They can also limit areas where employees can take breaks for the same reason. If you work in manufacturing, you can’t expect to take a break from the factory. »
Although they could keep employees out of certain areas for safety reasons, there were few situations in which companies could dictate whether employees left the site.
“Provided they return to work on time and in good condition to do their job, in most cases workers shouldn’t be told they can’t leave on a break,” Espie said.
“In some industries – tunnels, for example – this might not be possible. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to get out of a tunnel and back down in time.
How long and when an employee can take breaks is determined by the length of their shift.
During an eight-hour shift, an employee is entitled to two paid rest breaks of 10 minutes and one unpaid meal break of 30 minutes.