Employer’s guide to the Organisation of Working Time Act

Last updated: January 17th, 2023

Employer’s guide to the Organisation of Working Time Act

The Organisation of Working Time Act 1997. What does this legislation set out to do and why does it matter?

The Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 (the OWTA) is a key piece of Irish employment law.

In short, the OWTA regulates working hours for employees in Ireland, sets out minimum annual leave entitlements and also covers breaks and rest periods at work.

There are, however, some important rules to bear in mind…

Maximum working hours

The OWTA states that an employee cannot work more than the maximum of 48 hours in each period of seven days over an average reference period of four months.

This average does however increase to six months for certain work, such as work that is subject to seasonality.

Sundays must also be factored into the weekly rest period unless stated otherwise in the employment contract.

Night work

The OWTA also covers night workers. A night worker is an employee whose night-time working hours equal or exceed half of their annual working time, or three hours between midnight and 7 a.m.

You must not allow night workers to work more than an average of eight hours in a 24-hour period over a maximum reference period of two months.

It’s up to you to ensure that your employees, regardless of whether they work daytime or night-time hours, don’t exceed the maximum working hours limits.

Breaks at work and rest periods

When it comes to breaks and rest periods, the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 states that an employee must receive a 15-minute break where they work more than four and a half hours.

This break must be 30 minutes long when they work more than six hours.

An employee must also receive at least 11 consecutive hours of rest in each period of 24 hours.

The OWTA also stipulates that employees cannot take their breaks at the end of their shift. Rest periods are mandatory and must be adhered to as set out in the OWTA.

What are the exceptions?

The working time and breaks at work laws don’t apply to all employees. There are a number of exceptions, including:

  • Self-employed.
  • Split-shift workers.
  • Roles where there may be exceptional circumstances or emergencies.
  • Family employees on farms or living in private homes.
  • State police force of the Republic of Ireland (the Gardaí).
  • Defence Forces.

There are also different regulations for young employees. Their working hours are overseen by the Protection of Young Persons (Employment) Act 1996.

Furthermore, trainee doctors, retail workers, employees in mobile road transport, and anyone working at sea also works under different regulations. Some employees in the civil protection services are also exempt from maximum average working hours and regular breaks at work laws.

Annual leave

Annual leave is paid time off work. Paid annual leave was in fact introduced as an EU health and safety requirement.

All employees are entitled to annual leave, including full-time, part-time, temporary and casual workers.

OWTA entitles full-time employees working more than 1,365 hours a year to a minimum statutory entitlement of 4 weeks’ annual leave each year.

Certain employers provide more generous annual leave entitlements than the statutory minimum set out in the OWTA. Details of any discretionary annual leave entitlements should be set out in the contract of employment.

Annual leave for part-time employees

There are alternative ways to calculate a part-time employee’s annual leave entitlement.

The most common one is to calculate 8% of the hours worked by the employee during the leave year.

The final figure does not have to exceed the statutory maximum of 4 working weeks.

2 weeks of annual leave in a row

Employees who work at least 8 months during an annual leave year are also entitled to an unbroken period of 2 weeks’ annual leave.

What about overtime?

It’s important to state in an employee’s contract of employment whether you expect them to work overtime.

You should also clarify if they’ll be paid for these overtime hours. When they do work overtime hours, an employee should always receive at least the National Minimum Wage.

Need more advice on employee working hours?

If you need clarification on employee working hours, why not speak to a Graphite HR expert now on 01 886 0350 or request a callback here.

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Nora Cashe

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Nóra studied Law in Griffith College Dublin and qualified as a Barrister in 2008, practising in the area of Criminal law. She is also member of the Irish Employment Law Association.

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Nóra is a member of the Irish Employment Law Association and engages with the WRC Adjudication Service as part of their stakeholder engagement forum.

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