Disability charity said 12-hour shift without break ‘was norm in healthcare’, WRC told

Camphill Communities ordered to pay care worker €3,000 for failure to provide legal breaks

The WRC said Camphill Communities was not entitled to rely on paying the complainant for her mealtimes and providing food as an objective justification for not providing breaks.

Disability charity Camphill Communities has been ordered to pay a care worker €3,000 in compensation for failing to provide her with her legal shift break entitlements.

In a decision published on Thursday, the Workplace Relations Commission upheld two complaints taken by Jennifer Duffy under the Organisation of Working Time Act and the Terms of Employment Act against Camphill Communities of Ireland of Brannockstown, Co. Kildare.

Ms Duffy told the Commission she started work with the charity in 2018 at a house caring for three males with intellectual disabilities, one of whom needed one-to-one attention while eating.

She said she “mostly” got break time up to August 2020, when a new co-ordinator was appointed. After that, she said, she did not get breaks, particularly at weekends.


Ms Duffy said her weekend duties involved 12-hour days from 9am to 9pm, working alone with no colleagues available to relieve her.

She raised the issue with her supervisor and direct line manager and was told to phone one of the other houses in the complex when she needed cover for her breaks. But she said they were too “short-staffed” to help and that she was expected to eat her own meals at the house with the residents.

She sent emails in October and December 2020 and pointed out the onus was on her employer to find a solution. However, she said that “the matter was never sorted out”.

Organiser for trade union Siptu, Ger Malone, who appeared for Ms Duffy, said failure to provide statutory break entitlements was an “ongoing frequent problem” for both his client and other Camphill staff and the union raised it at every meeting it had with the charity’s management.

He said Camphill’s “standard response” was: “It was the norm in healthcare”.

When the union put the matter in writing to the charity, the HR manager replied that as its staff were paid for their breaks they were obliged to stay with the residents for their entire shift.

In its submission , the charity said it works to a model of “supported living” for adults with disabilities and is not simply a “residential service”.

“Staff are part of a family/community and in this model all staff are paid for their entire shift. As part of the model all staff are expected to partake of their meals with the residents,” it said. It said it had told staff and their union breaks could be scheduled, but this would result in the shifts being longer. The charity did not accept any of the residents had to be supervised while eating.

Camphill Communities’ head of HR said it was entitled to an exemption from the Organisation of Working Time Act as a provider of social care for people with disabilities. It was also submitted that Ms Duffy was able to take informal breaks and leave the house if she could get a volunteer to cover her.

In her decision, adjudicating officer Marian Duffy said she accepted Camphill Communities could avail of the exemption to the strict break and rest time provisions of the Organisation of Working Time Act given by ministerial order in 1998.

These allow the statutory requirement for an employer to provide a 15-minute break after four and a half hours’ work and for 30 minutes after 6 hours’ work to be waived in certain fields. However, she said employees in exempted fieldsstill have the right to an “equivalent” rest period even if it doesn’t take place at the set times in the Act.

The adjudicator added that in a shift longer than six hours, a break must be provided to protect the health and safety of the employee.

She said Camphill Communities was not entitled to rely on paying the complainant for her mealtimes and providing food as an objective justification for not providing breaks.

“Given that the respondent made no provision whatsoever to provide a break and required the complainant to work 12-hour shifts without a break, I consider it is a serious breach of the Act,” she said.

She ordered Camphill Communities to pay her five weeks’ compensation, valued at €3,000.