As an employer, you should be aware of the Working Time Act and how it applies to your employees.

In this guide, we’ll take you through how to apply employment law to your business to remain compliant with working regulations.

The working week

The Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 doesn’t allow a working week that exceeds 48 hours in a seven day period averaged out over four months. An employee could, therefore, work over 48 hours over a 7-day period provided s/he works less than 48 hours on average over 4 months.

The average working week in Ireland is 39 hours.

Daily rest breaks at work

European Union (EU) directives govern the legal working hours per day your employee works, including the maximum working hours per day.

EU laws entitle employees to receive at least 11 hours of rest in each period of 24 hours during which they are at work. This rule is typically breached by restaurants or pubs who operate late shifts and early shifts.

Rest periods at work

Under Ireland’s Working Time Act, breaks are also taken into consideration with your average working day. You must not require employees to work for more than 4 hours and 30 minutes without allowing them a break of at least 15 minutes.

In addition, if employees need to work for a period of more than 6 hours, provide them with a break of at least 30 minutes. You can include the 15-minute break in that allotted time.

You’re not permitted to allow the employee to take their rest break at the end of their working shift.

Under the Working Time Act, these rest periods are mandatory—your business must adhere to these laws.

Sleepover shifts

This type of shift applies where an employee can go to bed on your premises during a shift. The employee cannot remain rostered on the shift for, at the very least, 11 hours after the shift has come to an end.

The Working Time Act classifies sleepovers as working time. Case law dictates that where a person needs to be physically present at the place of work then that’s working time. Even in circumstances where the person can sleep/rest during the times when their services are not required.

Sleepover hours also attract the national minimum wage.


Calculating an employee’s holiday entitlement can be problematic and confusing for many employers. It’s important to note all employees can claim pay for holidays based on the hours they work and the minimum statutory entitlement in Ireland is four working weeks’ paid leave.

There are three main methods for calculating an employee’s holiday entitlements.

  1. Four working weeks in a leave year in which the employee works at least 1,365 hours (used for Full-time employees)
  2. 1/3 of a working week per calendar month that the employee works at least 117 hours (used for an employee missing part of the leave year)
  3. 8% of the hours an employee works in a leave year (used for part-time employees)

Where all three methods are applicable the employee can claim the greater amount of leave.

When we compare ourselves to the rest of the EU, Ireland has a relatively low average of annual leave entitlements, compared to Denmark with 24 days per year and Germany with an average of 30 days per year.

You should also remember the legal consequences of failing to comply with the Working Time Act and annual leave entitlements. Paying an allowance in lieu of providing the minimum holiday entitlement to staff members is a breach of the legislation and will attract legal and financial penalties.

The Working Time Act also includes bank holiday and public holiday provisions. Your employees can claim payment for annual leave over nine public holidays. These are:

  • New Year’s Day (1st January)
  • St. Patrick’s Day (17th March)
  • Easter Monday
  • The first Monday in May
  • The first Monday in June
  • The first Monday in August
  • The last Monday in October
  • Christmas Day (25th December)
  • St. Stephen’s Day (26th December)

If an employee is leaving a job with your organisation, they can claim payment for any outstanding paid annual leave and public holiday pay due to him/her.

Calculating working hours

A working week can exceed 48 hours in the right circumstances. It is the average that remains important to calculate, and you can do this in the following way:

  • Over four months.
  • Over six months if the employee is in the security, healthcare, prison, utilities, airport, or agriculture businesses.
  • Over 12 months following an agreement between yourself and your employee. The Labour Court will need to clear this agreement before it can start.

When it comes to calculating the 48 hours, you don’t need to include annual leave, sick leave, or any type of maternity leave (including adoptive or parental leave).


The working time and rest period laws shown above don’t apply to all employees. Exceptions to this include the:

  • State police force of the Republic of Ireland (the Gardaí).
  • Defence Forces.
  • Self-employed.
  • Family employees on farms or living in private homes.

Meanwhile, young employees have their hours overseen by the Protection of Young Persons (Employment) Act 1996.

There are also different regulations for trainee doctors, an employee in mobile road transport, and anyone working out at sea. Some employees in the civil protection services are also exempt from maximum average working hours and regular rest break rules.

Sunday working

If you have any employees who work on a Sunday, they have extra rights. For instance, they may receive extra pay. You’ll have to discuss this with your employee before reaching an agreement.

But you must provide your employee with one of the following:

  • Reasonable allowance.
  • Reasonable wage increase.
  • Reasonable paid time off.

The circumstances of your employee’s job will determine what is reasonable.


For any work an employee completes outside of their standard working hours, you don’t have to pay employees for this.

Despite no obligation existing, many businesses do pay staff members for overtime as an act of goodwill. It’s a good business practice to follow to keep employees happy.

In your employee’s contract of employment, make it clear if you expect employees to work overtime. Plus, indicate if they will receive payment for this.

Need more help?

Looking for more help with the Working Time Act? PENINSULA will help you to work out your staff members’ hours and keep your business compliant: 1890 252 923.