Hours of Work

The Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 sets out statutory rights for employees in respect of rest and maximum working time. These rights apply either by law as set out in the Act, in Regulations made under the Act or through legally binding collective agreements. These agreements may vary the times at which rest is taken or vary the averaging period over which weekly working time is calculated.

The restrictions on hours of work and rest breaks do not apply to:

  • Members of the Defence Forces, the Garda Siochana, junior hospital doctors,            workers at sea,
  • Those who control their own working hours or
  • Persons employed by a close relative in a private dwelling house or farm in or on            which both reside, are not covered by the rest and maximum working time rules.

Maximum Weekly Working Time

The maximum average working week is 48 hours. Averaging may be balanced out over a 4, 6 or 12 month period depending on the circumstances.

The 48 hour net maximum working week can be averaged according to the following rules:

  • For employees generally - 4 months
  • For employees where work is subject to seasonality, a foreseeable surge in activity, or
  • Where employees are directly involved in ensuring continuity of service or            production - 6 months
  • For employees who enter into a collective agreement with their employers which is

approved by the Labour Court – up to 12 months.

  • In the case of young people under 18, hours of work are fixed by the Protection of            Young Persons (Employment) Act 1996.


Note: Working time is net working time i.e. exclusive of breaks, on call or stand-by time. (Time working when on call/standby is counted).


Working time is defined in the Act as time when the employee is at his or her place of

work or at the disposal of the employer and carrying out the duties or activities of

his/her employment.

Rest Periods

Every employee has a general entitlement to:

  • Daily Rest Period - 11 consecutive hours daily rest per 24 hour period.
  • Weekly Rest Period - One period of 24 hours rest per week preceded by a daily rest period (11 consecutive hours).


Rest breaks

  • 15 minutes where 4 and a half hours have been worked.
  • 30 minutes where 6 hours have been worked, which may include the first break.
  • Shop employees who work more than 6 hours and whose hours of work include the hours 11.30am - 2.30pm must be allowed a break of one hour which must commence between the hours 11.30am - 2.30pm.

Note: These rest periods and rest intervals may be varied if there is a collective agreement in place approved by the Labour Court or if a regulation has been made for a particular sector. If there are variations in rest periods and rest intervals under agreements or in the permitted sectors, equivalent compensatory rest must be available to the employee.

Night Workers

Night time is the period between midnight and 7 am the following day. Night workers are employees who normally work at least 3 hours of their daily working time during night time and the annual number of hours worked at night equals or exceeds 50% of annual working time.


The maximum night time work for nightworkers is generally,

  • 48 hours per week averaged over 2 months or a longer period specified in a collective agreement that must be approved by the Labour Court.
  • For nightworkers whose work involves special hazards or heavy physical or mental strain - an absolute limit of 8 hours in a 24 hour period during which they perform night work.

Exceptional or Unforeseeable Circumstances

The Act permits exemption from the rest provisions if there are exceptional, unusual and unforeseeable circumstances. Equivalent compensatory rest must be taken within a reasonable period of time.

Shift and Split Shift Working

The Act provides for automatic exemption from the daily and weekly rest period provisions for shift workers when they change shift and for workers on split shifts. Equivalent compensatory rest must be taken within a reasonable period of time.

Exemption by Regulation

Certain categories may be exempted from the rest provisions by regulation including:

  • Categories of employees in the sectors set out in the Organisation of Working Time (General Exemptions) Regulations, 1998 (S.I. No. 21of 1998) may, subject to receiving equivalent compensatory rest, be exempted from the rest provisions of the Act. Certain regulations (i.e. S.I. No. 20 of 1998 Exemption of Transport Activities, and S.I. No. 52 of 1998 Exemption of Civil Protection Services) provide exemptions from the rest and maximum working week provisions of the Act without a requirement for equivalent compensatory rest.
  • Exemption by Collective Agreement - Any sector or business may be exempted from the statutory rest times by a collective agreement approved by the Labour Court, subject to equivalent compensatory rest being made available to the employee. Collective agreements to vary the rest times may be drawn up between management and a trade union or other representative staff body in any business, organisation or enterprise.

These exemptions are subject to equivalent compensatory rest being made available to the employee. This means that, although employers may operate a flexible system of working, employees must not lose out on rest. In these circumstances rest may be postponed temporarily and taken within a reasonable period of time.


Employees can make a complaint under the legislation to the Workplace Relations Commission who may do one of the following:

  • Declare that the complaint was or was not well founded.
  • Require the employer to comply with the relevant provision.
  • Require the employer to pay the employee compensation an amount as is just and equitable having regard to all the circumstances, but not exceeding 2 years remuneration.

Complaints need to be made within 6 months of the contravention to which the complaint relates. This may be extended to 12 months if the Adjudicator is satisfied that the failure to present the complaint was due to reasonable cause. A party may appeal a decision from the Workplace Relations Commission to the Labour Court not later than 42 days after the date upon which it was communicated to the party.

Irregular Hours (Contract of)

There are circumstances where, due to the nature of the business or the ongoing availability of work, standard contracts of employment are not appropriate.  In these cases, a more flexible contract of irregular hours may provide a solution agreeable to both employers and employees. While the majority of clauses are standard and can be seen in other types of employment contracts, there are two major differences:

  • Remuneration

Employees working under the terms of a flexible contract of irregular hours, will usually be paid weekly, based on an agreed hourly, calculated as follows:

Actual hours worked


As compensation amounting to 25% of what might otherwise have been paid or the equivalent of 15 hours work (whichever is the lesser amount).

  • Hours of Work

The written terms of employment for a flexible contract of irregular hours, are required to include the number of hours an employee can reasonably expect to work on a weekly basis. However, this does not mean that the employee will necessarily work those hours, as that will depend on availability of work. The stated (agreed) weekly hours are used to calculate the compensation an employee will receive if no hours are actually worked (see above).

View the full document here. You can also download the document below: 

Download (PDF, 206KB)