Workers may stay chained to their desks for their lunch break even though they are legally entitled to one, an employment law expert says.
Employment lawyer Susan Hornsby-Geluk from Chen Palmer told TV ONE's Breakfast the law in New Zealand entitles workers to a minimum time period of breaks, and employees are allowed to demand them.
"If any employee said to their employer 'I want to take my statutory breaks', then the employer has to agree," she said.
"This is a matter of minimum legal entitlement and it's not a situation where the employer can turn around and say no - and if they do in fact there's penalties under the Employment Relations Act of up to 20,000 dollars for those who breach that legislation."
Hornsby-Geluk's comments follow a study from Birmingham's Aston University that showed more than half of employees feel guilty taking a break, and around 60% of them would eat lunch at their desks.
Though many Kiwis may take breaks huddled over their desks, Hornsby-Geluk said New Zealanders need to figure out whether this is because of pressure from the boss or self-imposed.
"They might be at their desk eating lunch but whether or not they're working might be a different thing - so I think there's a question of whether or not it's the employer putting pressure on the employee, or whether they somehow feel pressure on themselves just as a result of the culture of the workplace," she said.
But Hornsby-Geluk said regardless of the office culture, workers can take two paid ten-minute breaks and an unpaid 30 minute lunch break.
"It would be surprising for most people to know that until 2008 there was no lawful statutory entitlement to take any breaks at all - that was really a matter of negotiation between employer and employee," said the employment lawyer.
"But in 2008 the Employment Relations Act changed and introduced minimum legal breaks. So for someone working an 8-hour day, it would be two ten minute breaks that are paid and one unpaid lunch break which is 30 minutes."
As for when they should be taken during the day, that should be negotiated between the employer and employee, she said.
"If they can't reach the agreement then ultimately it's the employer's choice."
But the employer cannot save up all of the day's breaks and tell the worker to go home early - the whole point of the break is to give the worker downtime during their shift.