How many hours should people work each week?

I’m an employer. How many hours are people entitled to work each week?

According to the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997, the maximum average working week for many workers cannot exceed 48 hours. The key word here is ‘average’. The average doesn’t include leave, and can be calculated in the following ways:

  • Over four months for most employees.
  • Over six months for employees working in certain sectors, such as in airports, hospitals and prisons.
  • Over a year when an employer and employee agree, subject to Labour Court approval.

Working hours are generally stipulated in a worker’s employment letter. However, if this is not the case, you must notify the employee of starting and finishing times of work at least 24 hours before the first day of the week or the first day of the week that the employee is actually working.

Sunday work

You may agree on a suitable pay arrangement with employees should they have to work on a Sunday. If you do not have such an arrangement, you must give the employee one or more of the following benefits for Sunday work:

  • Reasonable allowance
  • Reasonable pay increase
  • Reasonable paid time off work

Deciding on what is reasonable depends on your circumstances, and is up for discussion between you and your employee.

Sunday working in the retail sector

In the retail sector, a number of guidelines have been established with regard to allowances for Sunday working. They include:

  • A premium payment applies to Sunday working. This payment is agreed between employer and employee.
  • Employees should be able to volunteer to opt into working patterns, which include Sundays on a rota basis and form part of a regular working week (working five days out of seven, for example).
  • Employees who have a minimum of two years’ service on a Sunday working contract should be able to opt out of Sunday working, for urgent family or personal reasons, after giving adequate notice.
  • Meal breaks on Sundays should be standardised in line with the other days of the week.
  • All employees should have the opportunity of volunteering to work on the peak Sunday trading days prior to Christmas, in addition to their normal working week. Length of service will not be the overriding criteria for selection for Sunday working.


You have no statutory obligation to pay employees for work done in overtime, but many employers agree on a higher rate of pay or allowance with employees who do so. 

Night work

Night work is any work completed between midnight and 7 am. A night worker, however, is someone who normally works at least three hours between midnight and 7 am, and who works at night at least half the time over the course of a year.

Night workers are not allowed to work more than an average of eight hours over a 24-hour period. This average is generally calculated over the course of a two-month period.If you have night workers, you must carry out a risk assessment to determine whether the work involves any hazards or physical or mental strain.

Records of working hours

As an employer, you are obliged by law to keep detailed records of employee working hours for three years. This includes:

  • Starting and finishing times
  • Hours worked each day
  • Leave taken

Read more about keeping detailed records on this website.

3 Action Points

  • Decide working hours and rotas with employees in writing. This way, you will avoid any trouble further down the line.
  • Examine how similar businesses organise working weeks. If your business is in a sector that requires staff to work unusual hours, investigate how similar businesses organise their working weeks.
  • Comply with the law. Ensure you keep detailed records of employees’ working patterns so you aren’t penalised.
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