Working Time Act

Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 (“the OWTA”)

The OWTA regulates working hours for employees (with limited exceptions) as follows:

Weekly Rest Rights:

  • An employee must not work more than a maximum of 48 working hours in each period of seven days over an average reference period of four months (in certain situations it can be increased to a period of six months). There are some exceptions to this; the most important of which relates to those employees who are in a position that they can decide their own working hours.
  • Unless stated otherwise in the contract of employment, Sunday must be included in the weekly rest period. An employee who is required to work on Sundays must be compensated with either a reasonable allowance, increase in pay, time off or a combination of these.

Daily Rest Rights:

  • A 15-minute break (minimum) every 4.5 hours or 30 minutes every six hours of work.
  • At least eleven consecutive hours rest in a day.

Night Workers:

  • An employee who is a Night Worker (someone that works at least 50% of the year, three hours between midnight and 7 am) must not work more than an average of eight hours in a 24-hour period calculated over a maximum reference period of two months. 
  • An employee who is a special category Night Worker (someone whose work has been assessed as involving a special hazard or a heavy physical or mental strain) is not allowed to work more than 8 hours in any period of 24 hours.

Exemptions

It’s important to verify if a particular activity is subject to a specific regulation because there are certain sectors of activity where the rest provisions of the OWTA don’t apply. In almost all of these cases, an equivalent compensatory rest period must be given to the employee.

There are also exemptions from the daily and weekly rest provisions for:

  • Split-shift workers;
  • Workers where there may be exceptional or unforeseen circumstances or emergencies.

Practitioners need to take into account a number of relevant regulations made under the OWTA which may affect clients in certain sectors.

Procedures and Enforcement

Within six months of the date of any contravention (12 months where “reasonable cause” is shown for the failure to bring a claim within six months), a claim may be brought in writing to a Rights Commissioner using a Workplace Relations Claim form.

The Rights Commissioner will then make a decision and do one or more of the following:

  • Declare that the complaint was or wasn’t well founded (as the case may be);
  • Require the employer to comply with the relevant provision;
  • Require the employer to pay compensation of such amount (if any) to the employee, not exceeding two years remuneration in respect of the employee’s employment.

Either one of the concerned party may appeal from the Rights Commissioner’s decision to the Labour Court (as long as it’s within six weeks of the date on which the decision was communicated to them).

There is a further appeal from the Labour Court to the High Court on a point of law.