Managing those Working Time woes part 1 – rest periods

The Organisation of Working Time Act is a piece of legislation that protects the employee’s health and wellbeing in relation to rest periods and breaks from work. Over the coming weeks we will discuss what your legal obligations are under the Act in relation to the following:

  • Rest breaks during the day
  • Weekly rest breaks
  • The maximum working week
  • Sunday working
  • Night work
  • On standby and call out
  • Mobile workers
  • Travel time
  • Double employment
  • Employment of young persons
  • Record keeping

What is working time?

Working time is defined as any time that the employee is at his or her place of work or is at his or her employer’s disposal and is carrying out or performing the activities or duties of their work.


Who does it apply to?

  • Most employees
  • Apprentices
  • Agency workers – the end user is responsible for managing the Working Time not the recruitment agency they are employed by

The following employees have some exemptions in relation to rest periods and the maximum working week such as:

  • Employees who define their own working time, for example a CEO or other senior executive
  • A family member who works in the business
  • Employees who work in the civil protection services e.g.: prison officers, fire fighters and so forth

This week we give you the run down on rest breaks during the day, weekly rest periods and how to ensure your employees do not exceed the maximum working week. It important to note that rest periods are not working time.


Daily rest periods for workers aged 18 and above:

Employees must receive the following rest periods throughout the working day:

  1. 15 minutes for every 4.5 hours worked
  2. 30 minutes for every 6 hours worked
  3. 11 consecutive hours within every 24 hour period

The 15-minute break can form part of the 30-minute break for employees who work 6 hours or more per day. The employer is not obliged to pay for breaks and these can be unpaid.


Variations of the daily rest periods for workers aged 18 and above:

  1. A special provision applies for shop employees. They are entitled to a one-hour break if they work six hours or more and are scheduled to work between 11:30am to 2:30pm
  2. Some sectors may be exempted from statutory rest times in line with collective agreements or those cover by a Sectoral Employment Order (SEO)

Weekly rest periods for workers aged 18 and above:

  1. 24 consecutive hours within every 7 days

This period can be averaged over 14 days. If the weekly rest day is preceded by a working day, then the employee must receive their daily rest entitlement of 11 hours consecutive rest first. What this means is that the employee is entitled to 35 hours consecutive rest. The 35 hours rest can be shortened to 24 hours for objective technical reasons relating to the work concerned. Unless the contract of employment states otherwise, the employee is entitled to have Sunday off as their weekly rest period. If the weekly rest is averaged over 14 days, at least one rest day must be a Sunday. This information details the legal minimum weekly rest periods, however, most employers provide for longer weekly breaks.


Maximum weekly working time for workers aged 18 and above

The maximum average working week is 48 hours. The 48 hours can be averaged using one of the following reference periods:

  • 2 months for night workers
  • 4 months for the basic reference period
  • 6 months for employees who carry out certain activities which are detailed in the Organisation of Working Time Act, whose work is subject to seasonality, foreseeable surges in activity or in ensuring the continuity of service or production
  • Up to 12 months as set down in a collective agreement that has been approved by the Labour Court

An employee can legally work over the 48 hours per week for a number of weeks or months but this must be balanced by a reduction in the number of hours worked in the remaining weeks of the reference period. For example if your business is using the 4 month reference period and an employee works 50 hours a week for eight weeks and then 40 hours per week for the next eight weeks, their average over the entire 16 weeks is 45 hours per week which means they comply with the Working Time Act for that period of time.


It is important to remember that only time spent physically working and being at the employer’s disposal is used to calculate the number of hours worked. The following should be excluded from your calculations:

  • Rest breaks
  • Annual leave
  • Public holidays
  • Other types of leave

Keeping records

It is a legal requirement to keep records of hours worked and rest periods and they must be retained for three years. You can either do this using an electronic clocking in method or ensuring that employees complete a time sheet. You can download a manual time sheet here.


Our next Working Time article will focus on Sunday working, night worker, standby and call out.


In the meantime, you can download our guideline on Working Time here or if you would like to discuss it further you can contact Helen on 01 605 1668 or at

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SFA E-zine – The Tuesday Edition
Managing those Working Time woes part 1 – rest periods
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