What is the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997?

The Organisation of Working Time Act, 1997, is a pivotal piece of legislation which governs the working hours of employees. This Act sets out the statutory rights for employees in respect of maximum working hours, minimum rest periods, and annual leave entitlements. With specified exceptions, the act covers all employees working under a contract of employment, an apprenticeship and those employed through an agency.

Organisation of Working Time Act

Weekly Working Hours

According to the Organisation of Working Time Act, working time is defined as any time that the employee is at his or her place of work or at his or her employer’s disposal and carrying on or performing the activities or duties of his or her work. Working time does not include rest breaks, on-call and stand-by periods that occur away from the place of work.

The Act sets limits on the maximum average weekly working time for employees being 48 hours.  Weekly working time can be averaged over a 4-, 6- or 12-month reference period with the four-month reference period being applied to all activities in general. When calculating the reference period, time spent on protective leave, sick leave or annual leave should not be included.

Weekly Rest Period

In any seven-day period employees are entitled to a period of 24 hours of consecutive rest which can be averaged over 14 days. The employee is entitled to a daily rest period of 11 consecutive hours between shifts. The employee’s shift pattern must provide for the 11-hour rest period before receiving their 24 consecutive hours of rest. This effectively means the employee receives a minimum of 35 hours of consecutive rest.

Rest Breaks at Work

Employees are not required to work more than 4.5 hours without a rest break of 15 minutes. Should the employee work for more than 6 hours in a working day, the employee is entitled to a break of 30 minutes. This 30-minute break can include the first 15-minute break. Breaks cannot be given at the end of the working day and there is no requirement to pay for breaks. The Act mandates such rest breaks and rest periods to prevent employee burnout and ensure their well-being.

Annual Leave and Public Holidays

The Organisation of Working Time Act, 1997, guarantees employees the right to paid annual leave. Under the legislation employees are entitled to a maximum of 4 working weeks’ annual leave in a leave year.

The Act provides for ten public holidays, during which employees are entitled to either a paid day off on the day; a paid day off within a month of the day; an additional day of annual leave; or an additional day’s pay. Part-time employees must have worked at least 40 hours in the preceding five weeks ending on the day the public holiday falls to be entitled to a benefit for the public holiday.

Sunday Work and Night Work

Section 14 of the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 sets out statutory rights for employees in respect of Sunday working. An employee must be given a Sunday off as their weekly rest period or one Sunday off if the reference period is two weeks. This does not apply if the employees’ contract clarifies the requirement to work on Sundays. Employees who work on Sundays are entitled to either an increase in their rate of pay (Sunday premium), payment of a reasonable allowance, granting them paid time off from work, or a combination of two or more of the above means.

Under the Act night-time is defined as the period between 12 midnight and 7am. Night workers are defined as employees who normally work at least three hours of their daily working hours during nighttime and the annual number of working hours during nighttime equals or exceeds 50% of the number of hours worked each year. Their maximum working time is limited to eight hours per night calculated over a two-month reference period, while for employees working in hazardous working environments there is an eight-hour absolute limit on the number of hours worked.

Information on Working Time

Where the employee’s working hours vary from week-to-week, the employer is required to notify the employee at least 24 hours in advance of their start and finishing times before the first day of work and of the days of work required each week.   

The employer must notify the employee at least 24 hours in advance of additional hours the employee is required to work, for example due to overtime or changes in the roster.  The employee must be informed of his or her roster on a day the employee normally works. The above does not prejudice the employer’s right to vary the times notified if unforeseen circumstances justify that variation, however provisions such as rest periods or weekly working time must not be breached by that variation.

Exceptions and Exemptions

It is important to note that the Organisation of Working Time Act, 1997 has different exceptions and exemptions to certain provisions. Members of the Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces are totally excluded from the provisions of the Act.  Any person living with and working for their relative, where the living and working area are treated as the same location and a person who can determine their own working time (not including any core minimum time stipulated by the employer in an employment contract) are excluded from matters relating to working time.

There are also exemptions from the daily and weekly rest provisions for split-shift workers and workers where there may be exceptional or unforeseen circumstances or emergencies.


The Organisation of Working Time Act, 1997, plays a critical role in fostering a positive work environment that prioritises employee health and well-being. Compliance with this legislation is crucial to avoid employee burnout, low staff morale, high employee turnover, not to mention employee relations issues, Workplace Relations Commission Inspections, and complaints by employees to the Workplace Relations Commission. Employers should therefore ensure they meet all their responsibilities in respect of working time.

This article was written by Mislav Magas, HR Consultant at Action HR Services

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The information in this article is provided as part of the Action HR Services Blog. Specific queries should be directed to a member of the Action HR Services Team and it is recommended that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article. This article is correct on 1st November 2023.