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Employer’s guide to the Organisation of Working Time Act

By Kevin Callan

Last updated: October 20th, 2021

The Organisation of Working Time Act 1997. What is it and why does it matter?

The Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 (the OWTA) regulates working hours for employees in Ireland and also covers breaks at work. There are, however, some exceptions to bear in mind…

Employer responsibilities

The OWTA says 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. Sunday must also be factored into the weekly rest period unless stated otherwise in the employment contract.

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 cannot 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 day time or night time hours, don’t exceed their permitted working hours.

Breaks at work and rest periods

The Organisation of Working Time Act 1997, in summary, states that an employee must receive a 15-minute break where they work more than four and a half hours. This increases to 30 minutes 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 specified in the OWTA.

What are the exceptions?

The aforementioned 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.

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.

Looking for expert advice on employee working hours?

If you have questions about employee working hours, we can help. Speak to a HR expert now on 01 886 0350 or request a callback here.

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