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Minimum Break Time for Workers

Minimum Break Time for Workers.

Daily Law Tips (Tip 827) by Onyekachi Umah, Esq., LL.M, ACIArb (UK)

  1. Introduction:

Irrespective of location, nature of employment, type of employer and the often selfish policies and manuals of employers, every worker in Nigeria is entitled to break in a day. A federal law in Nigeria provides the minimum duration of daily breaks for workers in Nigeria. However, (may be out of ignorance or recklessness), many employers and their human resource teams rarely obey the Labour Act. And many of the offenders are not even aware that violating the Labour Act is a criminal offence.

This work focuses on the compulsory minimum duration for breaks in a day for workers in Nigeria. It mentions the extended break time for breastfeeding workers. The punishments for employers and human resource staff that breach the compulsory break time are also discussed. It also highlights how to make up for any lost break time. Since wherever there is a right, there is a remedy, this work features the legal remedies open to a worker whose break time was violated or is being violated, including the options that could cause the employer and the human resource team to pay huge financial damages and spend time in prisons (correctional centres).

  1. Minimum Break Time for Workers in Nigeria:

If machines are halted to rest and optimise performance, what more of human beings? Every worker in Nigeria is entitled to a break time during work hours. This is expressly provided in the federal law (the Labour Act, 1971) that is operational in all parts of Nigeria.

Workers in Nigeria are entitled to breaks in a day. The Labour Act provides that an employer and a worker are to agree on the hours for working. Also, this could be achieved through collective bargaining in the organization/industry or an Industrial Wages Board (where such exists). An employer and a worker must observe the working hours, and any work done outside that period is “overtime”.

Please note that the law interprets “rest-interval” to mean a minimum one-hour period for workers to exit the workplace and rest. Also, it interprets “break” to mean rest periods within the premises of a workplace. However, this difference is not observed in this work, rather “break” is used to mean rest period in the workplace or outside the workplace, with further explanations as may be necessary.

Every worker in Nigeria that works for a minimum period of 6 hours a day is, by the Labour Act entitled to a minimum of one (1) hour break (rest interval). The work hours are to be interrupted to accommodate the breaks. This is open to male and female workers. It is a period for workers to leave their work, and the work premises to rest. Hence, workers are not to be forced to take their breaks in the work premises or eat lunch at the workplace. Where to be and what to do with the mandatory one-hour break period is exclusively left for a worker to decide and not for an employer or a human resource staff to determine.  Hence, during a break time (rest-interval), workers are free to exit their workplace. The law further recognises that workers that operate machines could require longer break time than one-hour in a day since their work can be exhausting.

The total break time for breastfeeding (nursing mothers) is higher since there is an extra one-hour break for breastfeeding workers, making theirs a total of two hours break in each day. Click this link to learn more about the “Break Time for Nursing Mothers During Work;

However, the law also provides that there could be exceptions (a reduction in the minimum break period) where there are “unforeseen circumstances” that make the change necessary. The unforeseen circumstance could be interpreted as accidental and not possibly planned for by a diligent person. Before an employer can raise this defence, the employer must show that he/she was diligent and could not have avoided the unforeseen circumstance that caused a reduction in break time. For example, the arrival of high demand for a product after an advertisement or the delay in recruiting more staff could not be unforeseen circumstances. However, the sudden collapse of a worker (without prior symptoms or health challenges) during work hours and the need for another worker to reduce his/her break time to cover the role of the sick worker could be an unforeseen circumstance. Hence, an employer with a policy or guideline that reduces the minimum break time of one hour a day cannot claim the defence of unforeseen circumstances.

Apart from the exception of “unforeseen circumstances”, the law provides that, whereby the nature of work and the general working condition of an organisation, it is impossible to have a minimum one-hour break, a rest for a meal at the worksite or immediate premises of the worksite may be employed. Again, this does not permit employers to waive break time and mandate workers to take breaks in the office since the courts will examine the nature of work and the general working condition. For instance, an organisation that provides services, products and administrative support cannot wake up to claim that their “nature of work and the general working condition” will only permit them to grant lunchtime on their premises. However, law enforcement agencies could claim that their nature of work and general conditions may not allow them to grant adequate breaks.

Furthermore, by the Labour Act, where a worker works for a period of seven days, the worker must be offered one full day to rest (twenty-four [24] consecutive hours). Also, where a worker is denied a break period, the worker is entitled to go on break for the corresponding period of the break as soon as possible, but within fourteen days. A worker could receive overtime payment from the employer instead of taking a break time to cover any previously denied break time.

  1. The Punishment for Breaching Break Time:

Contrary to public opinion, the Labour Act provides punishments for any person that violates the Labour Act. Expectedly, there are punishments for employers that fail to adhere to the Labour Act, including violations relating to the compulsory break time for workers.

By the Labour Act, an employer that fails to grant breaks or overtime has committed a federal offence punishable with a fine. For a first-time offender, the punishment is the sum of Eight Hundred Naira (N800.00) and the fine for a second-time/subsequent offender is the sum of One Thousand Naira (N1,500.00). The punishment gets higher when the aggrieved worker is a breastfeeding or nursing mother since there is an extra one-hour break for breastfeeding workers, making theirs a total of two hours break in each day. Click this link to learn more about the Compulsory Break time for Nursing Mothers During  Work;

The Labour Act permits an employer to drag to court any person (including the often-lawless human resource experts) that the employer believes is the actual offender. Where the employer proves that it was diligent in observing the provisions of the law on breaks and that it was that other person (worker) who violated the law without the employer’s consent, the court will hold the person liable and then exempt the employer. This provision is important for employers since some wicked human resource staff could ignorantly or maliciously violate their co-workers’ breaks to get their employers into trouble.

Please note that the provisions of the Labour Act on breaks do not apply to a worker that is a father, mother, wife, husband, daughter or son of the employer. It also does not apply to a body of persons working based on an agreement of co-operation, this will include partnerships and persons that are not working based on an employment agreement.

  1. Legal Remedies for Offended Workers:

Workers in Nigeria whose breaks are violated by their employers (and the human resources team) are not without legal remedies. There is no need for such workers to take laws into their hands, rather, there should take their grievances into the hands of experienced lawyers. Don’t get mad, get a lawyer.

Several legal remedies are open to a worker whose breaks are being breached. The breach could be a reduction in the duration of break time, denial of breaks, denial of the right to exit the office during break and other frustrating actions and inactions disturbing breaks. The breach could include actions and inactions of the employer designed to lure and force the worker to resign and leave the workplace (constructive dismissal).

Among the available legal options is the institution of a lawsuit for huge damages (monetary claims running into millions of Naira) to be paid to the workers by the employer for constructive dismissal of the worker, where the worker leaves the workplace for the failure of the employer to provide the minimum one-hour break. This kind of lawsuit should be instituted at the National Industrial Court of Nigeria.

Since machines and animals need breaks, human beings need adequate breaks too. So, denying a worker of his/her minimum one-hour break could mean denying the worker of his/her fundamental human rights to the dignity of human persons. Also, forcing a worker to work without breaks could threaten the life of the worker, it is case specific. Hence, denial of breaks or adequate break time could be a case for the enforcement of the worker’s fundamental human right to life. Where a worker uses his/her break time for prayers and religious activities of the worker’s choice and the employer reduces the break time or denies the worker of breaks, the worker can also file a case for the enforcement of the worker’s fundamental human rights to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. An aggrieved worker, through an experienced lawyer, could bring a lawsuit for enforcement of fundamental human rights in the National Industrial Court or a High Court in any State or the Federal Capital Territory or the National Human Rights Commission.

An experienced lawyer can also craft a good case under tort for an aggrieved worker that was denied breaks or adequate break time and seek huge financial damages running into millions of Naira. This can be achieved through the National Industrial Court.

Furthermore, where the employer is an international organisation or has international interests, an experienced lawyer could devise good channels to engage the international community and the parent organs of the employer. An organisation is as good as it treats its workers. Please note that several Non-Governmental Organisations supporting aggrieved workers, like the Sabi Law Foundation ( and such organisations are often a good starting point.

  1. Conclusion:

Since the literacy level in Nigeria is very low, one cannot imagine how low the legal literacy level in Nigeria can be. Well, the often avoidable legal disputes that waste taxpayers’ money in courts across Nigeria and the high number of inmates at the decaying prisons (Correctional Centres) are further proof of how legally illiterate Nigerians are.

It is normal to find international and local organisations manned by persons who do not understand laws relevant to such organisations and their affairs. Unfortunately, ignorance of the law is not an excuse. As such, employers and their human resource teams can be dragged to court for violations of the Labour Act. No organisation in Nigeria can change or modify the statutory minimum breaks for workers in Nigeria, even if the organisation is an international brand. Every worker in Nigeria is entitled to one-hour break in each day, and where the worker is a breastfeeding mother, the worker is entitled to another one-hour break. So says the laws of Nigeria!

It is advisable to employ lawyers as human resource staff or engage an experienced lawyer that will often advise human resource staff to avoid attrition and huge loss of revenue.


  1. Sections 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 33, 34, 38, 42(2), 318 and 319 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.
  2. Sections 13, 21, 22, 54 (1)(d),54(5) and 58 of the Labour Act, 1971
  3. Onyekachi Umah, “Compulsory Break Time for Nursing Mothers During Work” (, 11 November 2022) <> accessed 11 November 2022
  4. Onyekachi Umah, “Stripping and Flogging of Workers in Nigeria” (, 24 May 2022) <> accessed 11 November 2022.
  5. Onyekachi Umah, “Details of State Offices of National Human Rights Commission” (, 27 October 2020) <> accessed 14 May 2021
  6. Onyekachi Umah, “Places, Workers Cannot Be Paid Salaries In Nigeria” (, 27 February 2019) < > accessed 23 May 2021
  7. Onyekachi Umah, “It Is Illegal For Workers To Be Told Where And How To Spend Salaries” (, 20 February 2019) < > accessed 23 May 2021
  8. Onyekachi Umah, “An Employment without a Written Employment Agreement is an Offence” (, 30 April 2018) <> accessed 23 May 2021
  9. Onyekachi Umah, “Fines And Deductions From A Worker’s Salary Are Illegal” (, 15 July 2020) < > accessed 23 May 2021
  10. Onyekachi Umah, “Sacking Of A Private Sector Worker With Or Without Reason” (, 8 May 2020) <> accessed 23 May 2021
  11. Onyekachi Umah, “Can Workers Be Paid Salaries With Relief Materials And PPES?” (, 17 April 2020) <> accessed 23 May 2021
  12. Onyekachi Umah, “Duration Of Sick Leave With Pay In Nigeria” (, 24 March 2020) < > accessed 23 May 2021
  13. Onyekachi Umah, “Who Must Pay The Cost Of Medical Examination Of All Workers In Nigeria” (, 23 March 2020) < > accessed 23 May 2021
  14. Onyekachi Umah, “List Of Things That Must Be In An Employment Letter/Agreement” (, 28 January 2020) < > accessed 23 May 2021
  15. Onyekachi Umah, “Oral Employment Agreement Is Illegal In Nigeria” (, 23 January 2020) < > accessed 23 May 2021
  16. Onyekachi Umah, “DEDUCTION OF INTERESTS, DISCOUNTS AND SIMILAR CHARGES FOR “SALARY ADVANCE” IS ILLEGAL” (, 20 September 2019) <> accessed 23 May 2021
  17. Onyekachi Umah, “WHEN IS IT ILLEGAL FOR A WORKER TO DEMAND OR BE PAID “SALARY ADVANCE” (, 4 September 2019) <> accessed 23 May 2021
  19. Onyekachi Umah, “IT IS ILLEGAL TO PAY A WORKER MORE THAN 1 MONTH ADVANCE IN NIGERIA” (, 5 July 2019) <> accessed 23 May 2021
  20. Onyekachi Umah, “PLACES, WORKERS CANNOT BE PAID SALARIES IN NIGERIA” (, 27 February 2019) <> accessed 23 May 2021
  21. Onyekachi Umah, “IT IS ILLEGAL FOR WORKERS TO BE TOLD WHERE AND HOW TO SPEND SALARIES” (, 20 February 2019) <> accessed 23 May 2021
  22. Onyekachi Umah, “CAN A WORKER/STAFF IN NIGERIA BE PAID IN KIND INSTEAD OF WITH MONEY?” (, 9 November 2018) <> accessed 23 May 2021
  23. Onyekachi Umah, “It Is A Crime To Run Recruitment and Employment Consultancy Services Without A License In Nigeria” (, 17 August 2018) <> accessed 23 May 2021
  24. Onyekachi Umah, “An Employment without a Written Employment Agreement is an Offence” (, 30 April 2018) <> accessed 23 May 2021
  25. Onyekachi Umah, “An Alternative to Courts for Human Rights Cases” (, 14 May 2021) <> accessed 23 May 2021.

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