Working hours

Maximum working hours

The maximum number of hours you can work in an average working week is 48 hours. A working week can be more than 48 hours, it is the average that is important. If you are under 18, there are different rules (see below).

The 48 hours of work do not include time spent on annual leave, sick leave, maternity leave, adoptive leave, parental leave, carer's leave or force majeure leave.

There are also special conditions for employees who work on Sundays – see 'Sunday working and overtime' below.

For most employees, the law on working time and breaks is set out in the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 - see 'the laws on work hours' below.

Exceptions to the 48-hour work week

The law on working time and rest periods does not apply to all employees. For example, it does not apply to:

You can read more about night workers and minimum breaks and rest periods.

Working hours and young workers

If you are under 18, there are different maximum working hours, breaks and rules on night work. You can read more about young people’s working hours.

How to work out your average working hours

You get your average working hours by calculating the number of hours you work each week and then averaging these hours over a set period (see table below).

The set period (or reference period) depends on the type of work you do and any special agreements you have with your employer.

Different set periods for certain workers
Set period Set period applies to:
4 months Most employees
6 months

Employees working in:

• The security industry
• Hospitals
• Prisons
• Gas and electricity
• Airport and docks
• Agriculture
• Businesses which have ‘peak periods’ at certain times of the year (such as tourism)

12 months Employees who have agreed to this with their employer (this must be approved by the Labour Court).


You have a standard working week of 40 hours (8 hours a day). You also do 12 hours of overtime a week for the first 10 weeks of your 4 month (17 weeks) reference period. Follow these steps to calculate your average working hours:

  1. 17 weeks of 40 hours and 10 weeks of 12 hours overtime (17 x 40) + (10 x 12) = 800 (680+120)
  2. 800 hours should be divided by 17 (the number of weeks in the reference period) 800 ÷ 17= 47.06

So you would have worked an average of 47.06 hours per week. This would be within the working time limits of 48 hours.

Information about your working hours

Usually, you can find your working hours and work patterns in your contract of employment. You may also find your hours in an Employment Regulation Order or Registered Employment Agreement.

If your hours of work change from week-to-week, your employer must:

  • Tell you the starting and finishing times at least 24 hours before your first day of work.
  • Give you at least 24 hours’ notice of your working hours for each day you have to work (particularly if you do not work every day). For example, they should put up a notice in an obvious place on a day that you are working.
  • Give you 24 hours’ notice if you have to work additional hours. However, they can ask you to work at less than 24 hours’ notice in unexpected cases, for example when they need you to cover for another employee who is off sick.

The work must take place within the reference hours and days you were told. If you are not given the minimum 24 hours’ notice, you can refuse to work without any negative effects.

This is set out in Section 17 of the Act, which was updated by Section 13 of the European Union (Transparent and Predictable Working Conditions) Regulations 2022.

What if I work more hours than set out in my contract?

If you work on a low-hour contract of employment and you regularly work more hours than what your contract says, you can ask your employer to change the contract terms.

You are entitled to be put in a band of hours (also called banded weekly hours). This means your contract will better reflect the number of hours you have worked over a 12-month period.

Applying to be put on banded weekly hours

If you want to be put on banded hours, you must apply to your employer in writing.

Your employer will decide which band of weekly hours applies to you, based on the average number of hours you worked each week during the past 12 months – see the table below.

Your employer must place you on a band of weekly hours within 4 weeks of the date you made the request. Once you are placed on banded hours, you are entitled to work an average of those hours for the next 12 months.

Band of hours based on your average hours worked 
Band Average number of hours worked each week
A 3 hours or more less than 6 hours
B 6 hours or more less than 11 hours
C 11 hours or more less than 16 hours
D 16 hours or more less than 21 hours
E 21 hours or more less than 26 hours
F 26 hours or more less than 31 hours
G 31 hours or more less than 36 hours
H 36 hours and over N/A

If your employer refuses to put you on banded weekly hours

In some cases, your employer can refuse to put you on banded hours. For example:

  • If there was no evidence to support your request
  • If there were significant adverse (negative) changes to the business during the 12-month reference period
  • If there was a temporary situation that is now over
  • If your hours are set out in a collective agreement

If your request is refused and you are not satisfied with your employer’s explanation, you can make a complaint to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC). See ‘How to make a complaint’ below.

Sunday working and overtime

Working on Sundays

If you work on Sundays, you are entitled to a benefit, such as extra pay. This is usually set out in your contract of employment.

If you and your employer have not made an agreement about extra pay, then your employer must give you one (or more) of the following:

  • A reasonable allowance
  • A reasonable pay increase
  • Reasonable paid time off work

What is ‘reasonable’ depends on the situation. Your employer should discuss this with you and your trade union (if you have one).

You can read more in the Workplace Relations Commission’s Code of Practice for Sunday working in the Retail Trade.


Overtime means work done outside your normal working hours.

There is no legal right to pay for working extra hours and there is no statutory levels of overtime pay. However, many employers pay employees higher rates of pay for overtime.

You should check your contract of employment for confirmation on:

  • Whether you must work overtime
  • The rates of pay for overtime (if any)

Certain sectors of employment have higher rates of pay for overtime than for normal hours. This is covered by Employment Regulation Orders and Registered Employment Agreements.

Does travelling for work count towards my working time?

Most employees cannot include the time spent travelling to and from work in their working hours. This is set out in Section 8 of the National Minimum Wage Act 2000.

However, there may be different rules for workers with no fixed place of work (where you do not work in the same place every day).

How to make a complaint

If you have a complaint about your working week, you should speak to your employer.

If you cannot resolve the problem with your employer, you can make a complaint to the Workplace Relations Commission using the online complaint form.

You should make your complaint within 6 months of the dispute or complaint taking place. This time limit may be extended for a further 6 months, but only if you had a reasonable cause for not bringing the complaint within the first 6 months.

Read more about how to make a complaint, including details of the WRC adjudication process.

Find more information on working hours and your employment rights from the WRC’s Information and Customer Service.

The laws on work hours

For most employees, the law on working time and breaks is set out in the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997. However, there are special regulations for:

Your employer must keep a detailed record of your working hours. This is set out in the Organisation of Working Time (Records) (Prescribed Form and Exemptions) Regulations 2001.

Workplace Relations Commission - Information and Customer Service

O'Brien Road
R93 E920

Opening Hours: Mon. to Fri. 9.30am to 1pm, 2pm to 5pm
Tel: (059) 917 8990
Locall: 0818 80 80 90
Page edited: 22 June 2023