Working Hours & Breaks

Here is a quick summary of the main general legislative provisions regarding working hours and breaks in the workplace.

The Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 sets out employee entitlements to breaks and rest periods that that employers are required to adhere to in the workplace .

  • The maximum net working week for the majority of employees is 48 hours. This does not mean that 48 hours cannot be exceeded in any one week but that the average over a specified reference period is 48 hours. This is normally over a 4 month period but there are some situations where a 6 month averaging period (e.g. security industry, hospitals, prisons, agriculture and businesses with peak periods such as tourism) or a 12 month averaging period (by agreement with the Labour Court) may be used.
  • Employees are entitled to a break of 15 minutes when they are scheduled to work more than 4.5 hours and 30 minutes if scheduled to work 6 hours or more (which may include the initial 15 minute break).
  • Shop employees who work more than 6 hours and whose hours of work include 11.30am – 2.30pm are entitled to an one hour consecutive break during these hours.
  • Employees are entitled to 11 consecutive hours of rest in any 24 hour period as well as one complete 24 hour period of rest in any period of 7 days, which must be preceded by an 11 hour daily rest period. However, it is permissible to give two 24 hour rest periods in a week following one in which the 24 hour rest period was not available.
  • Where employees work patterns that are covered under exemptions in the working time legislation such as shift working and split shifts, or when unforeseen circumstances occur appropriate compensatory rest and breaks must be provided.
  • Employees must be informed of their break entitlements and the procedure to follow in the event that they are unable to take a scheduled break.
  • Employers must retain records and be able to show proof that employees are working within specified limits and availing of appropriate breaks.
  • Employers are not required to pay for breaks but it may be Company or industry policy to do so, and any practice and precedent that has been established in this regard should be adhered.