A coffee break is a routine social gathering for a snack, the consumption of a hot beverage such as coffee or tea and short downtime practiced by employees in business and industry, corresponding with the Commonwealth terms elevenses, morning tea, tea break.
The coffee break originated in the late 19th century in Stoughton, Wisconsin, with the wives of Norwegian immigrants. The city celebrates this every year with the Stoughton Coffee Break Festival. In 1951, Time noted that since the war, the coffee break has been written into union contracts. The term subsequently became popular through a Pan-American Coffee Bureau ad campaign of 1952 which urged consumers, Give yourself a Coffee-Break – and Get What Coffee Gives to You. John B. Watson, a behavioral psychologist who worked with Maxwell House later in his career, helped to popularize coffee breaks within the American culture.
Coffee breaks usually last from 10 to 20 minutes and frequently occur at the end of the first third of the work shift. In some companies and some civil service, the coffee break may be observed formally at a set hour. In some places, a “cart” with hot and cold beverages and cakes, breads and pastries arrives at the same time morning and afternoon, an employer may contract with an outside caterer for daily service, or coffee breaks may take place away from the actual work area in a designated cafeteria or tea room. More generally, the phrase “coffee break” has also come to denote any break from work, not necessarily with coffee.
A break at work is a period of time during a shift in which an employee is allowed to take time off from his/her job. There are different types of breaks, and depending on the length and the employer’s policies, the break may or may not be paid.
Meal breaks or lunch breaks usually range from thirty minutes to one hour. Their purpose is to allow the employee to have a meal that is regularly scheduled during the work day.
For a typical daytime job, this is lunch, but this may vary for those with other work hours. It is not uncommon for this break to be unpaid, and for the entire work day from start to finish to be longer than the number of hours paid in order to accommodate this time.
When working in a restaurant environment, staff can be required to work up to six hours straight before having a break but must be given at least 20 minutes break for each six hours worked.
Employers are not allowed to make a member of their staff take a break earlier in the shift then work more than four consecutive hours or six consecutive hours in one go without a further break.