Ontario Labour laws state:

An employee must not work for more than five hours in a row without getting a 30-minute eating period (meal break) free from work. However, if the employer and employee agree, the eating period can be split into two eating periods within every five consecutive hours. Together these must total at least 30 minutes. This agreement can be oral or in writing.


Does this say that a employer may not force the employee to take a late lunch if that lunch starts after they have worked for 5 hours? That is to say, must breaks be scheduled in a way that workers are not working more than 5 hours uninterrupted?

2 Answers 2


The page you link is a good summary. It describes the employer obligations under the Ontario Employment Standards Act.

Eating periods are described at section 20:

20 (1) An employer shall give an employee an eating period of at least 30 minutes at intervals that will result in the employee working no more than five consecutive hours without an eating period.


(2) Subsection (1) does not apply if the employer and the employee agree, whether or not in writing, that the employee is to be given two eating periods that together total at least 30 minutes in each consecutive five-hour period.

This section has been applied several times by the Ontario Labour Relations Board and appears to have been given its plain meaning.

There are two ways that the Act lets an employer provide those breaks:

  1. Provide full 30-minute eating period(s) so that the employee works no more than five consecutive hours without an eating period.
  2. By agreement, provide two eating periods that total 30 minutes, "in each consecutive five-hour period"

If proceeding by option two, the 30 minutes of eating period have to occur "in each consecutive five-hour period." The Ontario Labour Relations Board has described these two options and has said that option two requires the breaks to be "within" each consecutive five-hour period. See Rusty's at Blue Inc. / M & S Accounting v Erica Solmes, 2022 CanLII 56373 (paragraph 125, emphasis in original):

Section 20 requires an employer to give an employee an eating period of 30 minutes after no more than five consecutive hours of work, or (with the agreement of the employee) two eating periods totalling 30 minutes within each consecutive five-hour period. Whether an employee is entitled to a single 30-minute eating period or to two eating periods totalling 30 minutes, the eating periods must be uninterrupted.

The other answer and the page you link also describes an "exceptional circumstances" exception, but that is describing section 19 of the Act. Those exceptional circumstances can only let an employer get around the requirements of sections 17 and 18. Those are not relevant to the eating-period requirements.

  1. An employer may require an employee to work more than the maximum number of hours permitted under section 17 or to work during a period that is required to be free from performing work under section 18 only as follows

At face value, there are two allowed methods:

  • After 5 hours of continuous work there must be a 30-minute break. This break could be taken earlier (after 3 or 4 hours say) but it cannot be delayed past 5 hours.
  • With agreement, there can be two breaks totalling 30 minutes (so 15:00 min/15:00 min, 10:00 min/20:00 min, or even 0:01 min/29:59 min) within each 5:30:00 block of work.

As written, the single break or the second of the two cannot be delayed such that it finishes more than 5:30:00 from when work started. So no late lunches.

However, the "Exceptional circumstances" exceptions spelled out in the same link would apply to this.

  • @user133469 that’s 5:30 including both breaks
    – Dale M
    Sep 9, 2022 at 10:24
  • 2
    There are two errors in this answer: the "exceptional circumstances" exceptions do not apply to the eating periods. And when split into two, the breaks have to happen within the consecutive five-hour period.
    – user46677
    Sep 10, 2022 at 12:19

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