Statutory break times - rules and violations

Lunch break, canteen, rest break

Breaks are not only a relaxing interruption in the working day, they are also regulated by law and are therefore very important for employers. But when exactly is a break a break? This seemingly simple question can have far-reaching consequences and affects various aspects of everyday working life. In this article, we take a detailed look at the legal provisions on break times and examine their practical significance for companies and employees.


When is a break a break?

If you're driving in the city and want to stop at the side of the road, you'll quickly ask yourself "Is this still a stop or am I already parked?". It's similar with breaks at work: when does a break count as a break? Does a trip to the toilet or coffee machine count as a break and therefore needs to be recorded?

While Section 12 of the Road Traffic Regulations (StVO) clearly regulates the difference between stopping and parking, Section 4 of the Working Hours Act (ArbZG) helps with the question of breaks. This states:

"Work must be interrupted by predetermined rest breaks of at least 30 minutes in the case of working time of more than six hours and up to nine hours and 45 minutes in the case of working time of more than nine hours in total. The rest breaks in accordance with sentence 1 may be divided into periods of at least 15 minutes each. Employees may not be employed for longer than six consecutive hours without a rest break."

Employers can therefore record their employees' breaks as breaks if they last 15 minutes or longer. In this case, breaks are not counted as working time and remain unpaid. Interrupting work to go to the toilet, get a coffee or have a quick chat with colleagues therefore does not count as a break in most cases. The minimum duration of 15 minutes exists so that employees have sufficient time to recover from work and maintain their performance for the rest of the working day.

In some industries, employees are affected by irregular and unforeseen business interruptions. For example, if machines break down in the manufacturing industry or heavy rain or storms occur in the construction industry, this leads to unexpected breaks. As employees in these cases do not know how long the break will last and have to be ready to resume work, they cannot use the interruption to recover. These breaks therefore do not count as rest breaks. They must neither be recorded as such nor remain unpaid.

Rest break and rest period

Even if the two words sound similar, rest breaks and rest periods are not the same thing. The rest break is the time that employees should use to recover during the working day. It serves to ensure that employees have enough energy for the remaining hours and are not exhausted.

The rest period is the time between two working days or shifts during which no work may be performed. According to Section 5 of the Working Hours Act (ArbZG), this must be at least eleven hours. This means that employees may not be deployed for at least eleven hours after the end of the daily working time before the next working day or shift begins.

There are exceptions in the following sectors and facilities:

  • Hospitals
  • Care and nursing facilities
  • Restaurant and accommodation industry
  • Transportation
  • Broadcasting
  • Agriculture
  • Animal husbandry

You can read about this in paragraph 2, section 5 of the Working Hours Act (ArbZG).

Break times: Legal provisions

As described above, Section 4 of the Working Hours Act (ArbZG) regulates rest breaks during the working day. If employees work more than six hours, they must take a rest break of at least 30 minutes. If they work more than nine hours, a rest break of at least 45 minutes is mandatory. In addition, rest breaks must be "fixed in advance" - employees must therefore know when and for how long they should take their break. Employers can simply provide their employees with a time slot for breaks - similar to flexitime - for example between 11:30 and 14:00.

Breaks must always be taken during working hours. Employees may not take them before or after work, i.e. they may not start later or end their working day earlier. This is the only way employees can really recover from their work. However, breaks do not have to be taken in one go: Breaking them up into blocks of at least 15 minutes or longer is permitted.

Employees can decide for themselves how they want to spend their break. They are free to decide whether they would rather have lunch or go for a walk. They are also allowed to leave the workplace during their break, unless the employment contract stipulates otherwise.

For employees and trainees under the age of 18, it is not the Working Hours Act that applies to break regulations, but Section 11 of the Youth Employment Protection Act (JArbSchG). This states that young people may not work for more than four and a half hours at a time. After this time, they are entitled to a break of at least 30 minutes. If young people work for more than six hours, they are entitled to a break of at least 60 minutes. In addition, employers must ensure that young people are only allowed to spend their break in the workplace if no work is being carried out there at the time. The necessary recovery of young people must not be impaired in any way.

There are some groups of people who are not affected by the statutory break times. These are, for example, senior executives, chief physicians or employees who care for family members. All exceptions are listed in Section 18 of the Working Hours Act (ArbZG).

The following example illustrates the statutory break times once again:

Nadine starts work as an engineer at 9 a.m. every day. She works in a large company that manufactures systems for assembly and production automation. To ensure that not all employees go to the canteen at the same time, her employer sets different time slots for the break for each group. While the assembly line workers start their break at 11:30, Nadine is allowed to take her break from 12:00. To ensure that she does not exceed the maximum working time of six hours without a break, she must take a 30-minute break by 3 p.m. at the latest. Her employer has told her this in advance and regularly checks this on her timesheet. Sometimes Nadine splits her half-hour break, taking 15 minutes at 12 noon and the same amount of time again at 2 pm.

Simply deduct rest breaks automatically

Optimize your working time recording and remain legally compliant - with Sawayo you simply deduct breaks automatically.

On-call service

Some industries require employees to be continuously available in order to be able to react to unforeseen events or emergencies. On-call duty therefore plays an important role in healthcare, production and manufacturing or transportation. Break time is also regulated by law in this case.

If employees spend their on-call time at home, their working time only begins when they are actually on duty. If the assignment ends before six hours, no break has to be taken. The rest period of eleven hours begins after the end of the assignment.

If employees are waiting at the workplace for a possible assignment, this time counts as working time. The usual break and rest periods apply.

Do employers have to record their employees' break times?

Time recording is mandatory in Germany. Employers must therefore record all of their employees' working hours in a reliable, objective and accessible system. Even if the Federal Labor Court (BAG) did not explicitly mention the recording of breaks in its decision in September 2022, employers should still record them. Breaks are required by law. They should therefore be documented in order to be able to prove compliance. This not only serves to precise recording of working hoursbut also to protect employers in the event of possible legal disputes. Employers must be able to prove that they have fulfilled their employer obligations.

Automatic break deduction - is that allowed?

The Working Hours Act obliges employers to determine breaks in advance and to grant them. For this reason, automatic break deduction via a time recording system is permitted. However, employers must check that employees actually take their breaks. If this is not done, employers can be held liable.

Legal consequences of violations

In Germany, compliance with the Working Hours and Occupational Health and Safety Act is monitored by the respective state office for occupational health and safety. This office is authorized to carry out unannounced audits and inspections. The officials have so-called sovereign powers. This means that, among other things, they may enter company and business premises and inspect documents and written records. This also applies to the recording of working hours.

If the State Office for Occupational Safety and Health finds that the regulations have been negligently or even deliberately disregarded - for example because there is no reliable, objective and accessible system for recording working hours or compliance with rest breaks is not traceable - employers face Fines of up to 30,000 euros.

In addition to fines and possible claims for damages, companies that do not keep accurate records of working hours and breaks also risk damage to their image, which can lead to considerable competitive disadvantages. Accurate hours recording is therefore essential.

If employers notice that employees are not taking breaks or are not taking sufficient breaks, they can issue a warning. Repeated violations even constitute grounds for dismissal.


Rest breaks are clearly regulated in paragraph 4 of the Working Hours Act (ArbZG). Anyone who works between six and nine hours is entitled to a break of at least 30 minutes. For working days of more than nine hours, a break of at least 45 minutes is available. It is advisable to record breaks in order to document compliance with working time regulations. This enables employers to prove their employer obligations and avoid potential fines and claims for damages. The automatic recording of break times is permitted and not only makes it easier to check employees' break arrangements, but also proves that companies are fulfilling their obligations to schedule and grant breaks in advance.

Simply deduct rest breaks automatically

Optimize your working time recording and remain legally compliant - with Sawayo you simply deduct breaks automatically.


We would like to point out that the contents of our website (including any legal contributions) are for non-binding informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice in the strict sense. The content of this information cannot and is not intended to replace individual and binding legal advice that addresses your specific situation. In this respect, all information provided is without guarantee of accuracy, completeness and timeliness.

You want to learn more?

Book a call with one of our product experts and learn how Sawayo can make your job easier - or just get started for free.