The working week
The Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 states that the maximum average working week for many employees cannot exceed 48 hours. This does not mean that a working week can never exceed 48 hours; it is the average that is important. The average may be calculated over one of the following periods:
- 4 months for most employees
- 6 months for employees working in the security industry, hospitals, prisons, gas/electricity, airport/docks, agriculture or in businesses which have peak periods at certain times of the year (such as tourism)
- 12 months where this has been agreed between the employer and the employees (and this must be approved by the Labour Court)
The 48 hours of work do not include annual leave, sick leave or maternity or
adoptive or parental leave.
The legislation also lays down rules for night workers, minimum breaks and rest periods. There are also special provisions in relation to Sunday working – see below.
Exceptions to the working time legislation
The Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 on working time and rest periods does not apply to all employees. It does not apply to the Gardaí, defence forces, employees who control their own working hours or family employees on farms or in private homes. The Protection of Young Persons (Employment) Act 1996 regulates the working hours of young people under the age of 18.
Separate regulations govern the working time of:
- Trainee doctors (SI 494/2004)
- Employees working in mobile road transport activities (SI 36/2012)
- Employees working at sea
Rules on the maximum average working week and statutory rest breaks do not apply to employees in certain categories of civil protection services (SI 52/1998).
Getting information about your working hours
For many employees the hours of work are specified in their contract of employment or an Employment Regulation Order or Registered Employment Agreement.
If your hours of work are not specified, your employer must follow the law as set out in Section 17 of the Act.
- Your employer must notify you of the starting and finishing times at least 24 hours before your first day of work.
- If you do not work every day, your employer must give you at least 24 hours’ notice of your working hours for each day of the week that you have to work. They can do this by putting up a notice in a conspicuous place in your workplace on a day when you are working.
- If you have to work additional hours, your employer must give you 24 hours’ notice in the same way. However, they can ask you to work at less than 24 hours’ notice in unforeseen circumstances, such as when they need you to cover for another employee who is off sick.
Can I ask to be put on banded weekly hours?
If you work on a low-hour contract of employment and you consistently work more hours each week than your contract provides for, you can ask your employer to change the contract terms. You are entitled to be placed in a band of hours that better reflects the number of hours you have worked over a 12-month period.
You must apply in writing to your employer and request to be placed on banded hours. Your employer will decide which band of weekly hours applies to you, based on the average number of hours that you worked per week during the past 12 months. The employer must place you on a band of weekly hours no later than 4 weeks from the date you made the request. Once you have been placed on banded hours, you are entitled to work an average of those hours for the next 12 months.
|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|
However, in certain circumstances employers can refuse your request to place you on banded hours.
Reasons for refusal can include:
- No evidence to support your request
- Significant adverse changes to the business during the 12-month reference period
- A temporary situation that no longer exists
- Cases where hours are set out in a collective agreement
If your request is refused, you can refer the matter to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC). See ‘How to complain’ below.
If you work on Sundays, your entitlement to extra pay may be agreed between you and your employer. Under the Organisation of Working Time Act, if there is no agreement about your pay, your employer must give you one or more of the following for Sunday working:
- A reasonable allowance
- A reasonable pay increase
- Reasonable paid time off work
What is reasonable depends on all the circumstances. It should be negotiated between you and your employer and, where applicable, your trade union. You may be able to obtain some guidance by referring to an agreement applying to comparable employees elsewhere in similar employment.
Overtime is work done outside normal working hours. Employers have no statutory obligation to pay employees for work completed in overtime. However, many employers pay employees higher rates of pay for overtime.
Your contract of employment should state whether you are required to work overtime and should set out the rates of pay, if you are to be paid for it. Certain sectors of employment are covered by Employment Regulation Orders and Registered Employment Agreements and may have higher rates of pay for overtime than for normal hours.
Workers with no fixed place of work
In 2015, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that where workers do not have a fixed place of work, the time they spend travelling between their home and their first and last customers each day counts as working time – case C-266/14 (pdf).
In Ireland, the National Minimum Wage Act 2000 states that working time does not include time spent travelling to and from work (in Section 8). Until this legislation is amended, employees in the private sector may not be able to enforce this ECJ ruling.
However, under the principle of direct effect, the ECJ ruling does apply to the public sector. Therefore, if you work in the public sector but do not have a fixed place of work, you may be able to count your travel time between your home and your first and last customers as working time.
Keeping records of working hours
Your employer is required to keep detailed records of your working hours. The rules are set out in the Organisation of Working Time (Records) (Prescribed Form and Exemptions) Regulations 2001.
How to make a complaint
If you wish to refer a dispute to the WRC under the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997, you should do so within 6 months of the dispute or complaint occurring. However, this time limit may be extended for up to 12 months if there was reasonable cause for not bringing the complaint within the first 6 months. You must use the online complaint form available on workplacerelations.ie.
You can get more information on working hours and your employment rights from the WRC’s Information and Customer Service.