The potential for covid 19 outbreaks is a concern in Ontario workplaces. There is some evidence that transmission may occur during meal and break periods in particular.

covid 19 is spread between people – whether “on the clock” or not. To prevent transmission, we all need to follow public health measures, including:

  • wear a mask indoors whenever possible
  • maintain physical distance
  • wash hands

Employers need to make sure all workers can follow these public health measures to protect themselves and others while working and on break.

What you need to do

Everyone has a part to play in preventing covid 19 transmission. All Ontarians must follow public health requirements, such as those described in the covid 19 Response Framework.

Employers, supervisors and workers also have specific obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act that help to keep the workplace safe.


As an employer, one of your responsibilities is to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances to protect your workers from hazards in the workplace, including from infectious diseases like covid 19.

Take steps to help ensure you and your workers can follow public health measures at all times. For meal and break periods, consider how you can create and maintain:

  • safer spaces
  • strong policies and procedures
  • consistent training and supervision

Remember that physical distancing and good ventilation are especially important when workers remove masks to eat and drink.


Supervisors must:

  • make workers fully aware of workplace hazards
  • ensure that workers perform work safely
  • respond to any hazards brought to their attention

It’s important that supervisors lead by example. They should give consistent guidance and make sure workers follow all health and safety rules and policies, including during meal periods and breaks.


Workers must play their part by:

  • wearing the protective equipment required by their employer
  • working in a manner that doesn’t expose themselves or others to harm
  • staying home and following public health direction when sick or after close contact with someone who has covid 19

Workers should do everything they can to keep physical distance from others, especially when they remove protective equipment to eat or drink.

Recommended precautions for meal and break periods

There is an increased risk of spreading covid 19 when workers are:

  • close together
  • in crowded places
  • in closed spaces
  • exposed for a longer time
  • forcefully exhaling

These factors are important to address during break times and working hours.

Create safer spaces

Make sure that shared spaces for eating, taking breaks and changing are well-ventilated and set up to allow workers to maintain physical distance. Some actions you can take include:

  • position dining tables, chairs and other furniture in meal and break rooms to help workers keep at least two metres of distance from each other
  • remove furniture from break spaces that would lead to overcrowding if used
  • provide more locations for eating, changing and taking breaks
  • provide visual markings to support physical distancing and control the flow of people
  • make sure HVAC systems are properly maintained
  • choose spaces with windows that open and keep them open as much as possible
  • use any outdoor spaces available to you

Have strong policies and procedures

Put in place clear policies for using lunchrooms, changerooms and break rooms. Some points to think about include:

  • set limits on the number of people allowed to use meal and break areas at one time and on how long they can stay there
  • post information and reminders about capacity and time limits, maintaining distance and taking masks off only when eating and drinking
  • stagger eating and rest periods
  • consider assigning workers to specific meal and break rooms if there are multiple spaces
  • ensure standard cleaning and disinfection happens on a frequent schedule and increase cleaning and disinfection of high touch surfaces
  • allow masks to be removed indoors only for eating and drinking (and not while waiting for the microwave)

Focus on training and supervision

Make sure everyone knows what to do and how to do it. Observe what workers are doing, including during meal and break times, and provide feedback right away. Some points to think about include:

  • lead by example and have supervisors do the same
  • post clear instructions and posters in prominent locations, ideally in all the languages spoken by workers
  • be consistent and strong in your messaging – point out if people are not following the rules and give positive feedback when they are following them
  • remind workers of important policies
    • wear masks at all times when indoors and remove them only to eat and drink
    • stay two metres apart from others even during meal and break periods
  • encourage workers to go outside for breaks and meals when the weather allows for it
  • ensure workers know how you want them to store source control masks and personal protective equipment (PPE) during breaks
  • promote frequent handwashing with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizers

Contact us

If you need more information about safety requirements, please contact us at the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development’s Health & Safety Contact Centre:

This resource does not replace the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and its regulations, and should not be used as or considered legal advice. Health and safety inspectors apply the law based on the facts in the workplace.

Updated: July 05, 2021
Published: January 05, 2021