Working time directive


The Working Time Regulations implement the European Working Time Directive into Northern Ireland law.

Working Time Regulations

The Working Time Regulations govern the hours most workers can work and sets limits on an average working week, statutory entitlement to paid leave, entitlement to rest breaks and annual leave, limits on the normal hours of night work and entitlement to worker health assessments.

HSENI has responsibility only for the enforcement of

  1. the maximum weekly working time limit
  2. night work limits
  3. health assessments for night workers

The following list outlines aspects of work which can be enforced through Employment Tribunals (and not HSENI):  

  1. time off
  2. rest breaks within shifts
  3. rest breaks between shifts and
  4. paid annual leave entitlement

Maximum weekly working time limit

A limit of an average of 48 hours (averaged over a period of 17 weeks) can be worked although individuals may choose to work longer by opting out.  The opt-out has to be with the agreement of both employer and employee and has to be in writing.   

Under 18’s can’t work more than 8 hours per day or 40 hours a week.

Different rules apply to workers in road, sea and air transport.

Calculating working hours

Average working hours are calculated over a “reference period” which is normally 17 weeks. 

This means you can work more than 48 hours one week, as long as the average over 17 weeks is less than 48 hours a week.

Your working hours cannot be averaged out if you are under 18.

What counts as work?

A working week includes:

  • job related training
  • time spent travelling if you travel as part of your job for example if you work as a sales representative 
  • paid and unpaid overtime
  • time spent on-call at the workplace
  • travel between home and work at the start and end of the working day (if you dont have a fixed place of work)

Workers who cannot opt-out

You cannot opt-out of the maximum weekly working time limit if you work in any of the following roles: 

  • airline staff
  • a worker on ships or boats
  • a worker in the road transport industry (except for drivers of vehicles less than 3.5 tonne)
  • a security guard on a vehicle carrying high-value goods

Working two different jobs

If an employee works for more than one employer, the total amount of hours worked shouldn’t exceed the 48 hour average limit.

If an employee works in two jobs they can either:

  • consider signing an opt-out agreement with the employer if the total time worked is over 48 hours
  • reduce the hours to meet the 48 hour limit

Night working hours and limits

Staff who regularly work at least three hours during the “night period” are night workers.

The night period is defined as being from 11pm to 6 am.

The following limits on working hours for night workers apply:

  • night workers must not work more than an average of eight hours in a 24 hour period
  • the average is usually calculated over 17 weeks, but it can be over a longer period of up to 52 weeks if the workers and employer agree
  • regular overtime is included in the average , but not occasional overtime
  • workers cannot opt-out of the limit

Exceptions to night work limits

The limits on night working hours don’t apply in the following cases:

  • in jobs that need round-the-clock staffing for example hospital work
  • in an industry with busy peak periods for example agriculture, retail, tourism, security and surveillance
  • if there is an emergency or an accident
  • if a member of staff has to travel a long distance from home to work or constantly works in different places
  • if a collective or workforce agreement excludes or changes the restriction on night work

Health assessments

Employers must offer workers a free health assessment before they become a night worker. Workers don’t have to accept this however.

The assessment must be written by a qualified health professional and it can be in the form of a questionnaire.

The worker must get a follow-up examination by a health professional when an employer is unsure if the worker is fit for night work.

A repeat assessment must be offered regularly.

The employer must offer suitable other work where possible if a worker has health problems that a doctor says are related to night work.


HSENI cannot take enforcement action in relation to breaks, time off and annual leave.  Employees who feel they are not getting their required breaks and or annual leave entitlement may have recourse through an Employment Tribunal.

Useful links

Key legislation

Please note that these links are to the original legislation, visitors should verify for themselves whether legislation is in force or whether it has been amended or repealed by subsequent legislation.