Why the Organisation of Working Time Act matters

Alan Hickey

September 21 2021

Last updated: September 21st, 2021

“What is the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997?” is a question our HR consultants are often asked.

First and foremost, the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 (the OWTA) is an important part of Irish employment legislation. The OWTA regulates working hours for employees in Ireland and also covers breaks at work. There are, however, some exceptions.

To learn more about the OWTA and its importance with regard to employee working hours, read on…

The Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 and employer responsibilities

Under the OWTA, an employee must not work more than the maximum of 48 hours in each period of seven days over an average reference period of four months. This average can increase to six months for certain kinds of work e.g., work that is subject to seasonality. Sunday must be factored into the weekly rest period too unless stipulated otherwise in the employment contract.

The OWTA also provides for night workers. A night worker is an employee whose night-time working hours equal or exceed 50% of their annual working time, or three hours between midnight and 7 a.m. Night workers must not work more than an average of eight hours in a 24-hour period over a maximum reference period of two months.

It's your responsibility as an employer to ensure that your employees, whether they work day time or night time hours, do not exceed their permitted working hours. And remember, you must also factor in breaks at work…

Breaks at work

Breaks at work, or ‘rest periods’, form an important part of the OWTA. The Act, 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. The Act also specifies that an employee must receive at least 11 consecutive hours of rest in each period of 24 hours.

Another point of note is that you're not permitted to allow any employee to take their break at the end of their working shift. Rest periods are mandatory and must be followed as set out by the Act.


With regard to exceptions, the working time and breaks at work laws specified above don’t apply to all employees. Exceptions include:

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

There are different regulations for young employees, too. Their working hours are overseen by the Protection of Young Persons (Employment) Act 1996. Trainee doctors, retail workers, employees in mobile road transport, and anyone working at sea also work 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?

In an employee’s contract of employment, make it clear if you expect them to work overtime. Also, indicate if they’ll be paid for these overtime hours. An employee should always receive at least the National Minimum Wage for hours worked.

BrightHR: Working time management made easy

Our working time management app BrightHR is the perfect tool for creating rotas, tracking overtime, and much more. BrightHR allows you to:

  • Make a single rota or several at once in record time, every time.
  • Save rotas in your unlimited cloud storage space
  • Track staff work hours and boost your team’s output with our smart clocking app.
  • Log the extra hours your employees work in a click
  • Get automatic notifications of new overtime requests

Book your free demo of BrightHR today to discover how it can benefit your business.

Need answers to your working time questions?

If you have questions on the Organisation of Working Time Act or need help handling overtime, our HR experts can help. To speak with an expert now, call 0818 923 923.

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