Working hours

Introduction

The maximum number of hours that an adult employees can work in an average working week is 48 hours. This does not mean that a working week can never exceed 48 hours, it is the average that is important.

The 48 hours of work do not include time spent on annual leave, sick leave, maternity leave, adoptive leave or parental 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 set 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 average these hours over a certain set period. The set period (or reference period) depends on the type of work you do and any special agreements you have with your employer.

Reference period Employees whose average hours are calculated this way:
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 this with their employer (this must be approved by the Labour Court).

Example

You have a standard working week of 40 hours (8 hours a day). You also do 12 hours 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.

This is set out in Section 17 of the Act.

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

To ask to be put on banded hours, you must apply in writing to your employer.

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 From To
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

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 no longer exists
  • 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 (where applicable).

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

Overtime

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:

  • Whether you are required to 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?

In Ireland, 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 (workers who do not work in the same place every day).

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).

The ECJ ruling currently applies to the public sector. This means that, if you work in the public sector and 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.

However, employees in the private sector may not be able to enforce this ECJ ruling until the current National Minimum Wage Act is amended.

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.

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.

Review of the working week

The Government is researching the potential (and possible impacts) of a 4-day working week. This research is in the very early stages, and no changes are planned yet.

Workplace Relations Commission - Information and Customer Service

O'Brien Road
Carlow
R93 E920

Opening Hours: Mon. to Fri. 9.30am to 1pm, 2pm to 5pm
Tel: (059) 917 8990
Locall: 1890 80 80 90
Page edited: 16 July 2021