Working hours and Records-keeping in the European Union

Working time and rest, Annual Leave, EU legislation
Written by Dan Gubler
Updated 1 year ago

If you employ staff, you need to know the basic rules about working hours and guarantee the minimum standards set by the EU directives. You should respect the rules covering minimum daily and weekly rest, breaks, night work as well as annual leave and maximum weekly working time.

Your EU country might apply rules that are more favourable to workers. Find out more on working hours legislation in your country from the EU official information page.

Working time and rest

As an employer, you must ensure that your staff does not work more than 48 hours per week on average (including overtime), over a reference period of up to 4 months. Your employees must be given at least 11 consecutive hours of daily rest and at least 24 hours of uninterrupted weekly rest every 7 days, over a reference period of 2 weeks.


If your employees work more than 6 hours a day, you must ensure that they are given a break, the duration of which is specified in the collective agreements or by national law.

Annual leave

Beyond the daily and weekly rest periods, your staff has the right to at least 4 weeks of paid holidays per year. You cannot replace these holidays with a payment unless the employment contract has ended before the staff member has used up all their annual leave.

Night work

If your employees work at least 3 hours of their daily shift or a certain proportion of their yearly working time in a period of 7 hours defined by national law and including the time from midnight to 05:00, they qualify as night workers.

Your night workers may not work more than an average of 8 hours per 24 hours. If their work involves special hazards or heavy physical or mental strain, you should ensure that they do not exceed the daily limit of 8 hours in any 24-hour period.

Night workers should also be guaranteed free health assessments respecting medical confidentiality before they start carrying out night work and at regular intervals afterwards. If your night workers suffer from health problems related to the fact that they work nights, you must transfer them to day work whenever possible.

Different working time obligations

Derogations from some of the working time obligations are possible if allowed by national law.

If the working hours of your employees are not measured or predetermined, such as for managing executives, you might not have to apply working time obligations.

If the work requires continuity of presence, service or production, you can postpone the rest periods of your staff. You can do so if you hire staff working in:

  • hospitals or similar establishments
  • fire and civil protection services
  • industries where work cannot be interrupted for technical reasons
  • agriculture

If permitted by national law, you may have an agreement with a staff member to work beyond the 48-hour limit. Your employees can refuse to give their agreement or they can revoke it at any moment. As their employer, you should respect their decision and not harm or disfavour them. You need to keep up-to-date records of all workers who carry out such work. This opt-out only applies to the 48 hour limit, not to the other working time rules.

When your staff operate transport services for passengers or goods by rail, air, road or waterway, you must follow special working time rules.

With the ruling of the European Court of Justice on the recording of working hours on 14 May 2019, employers throughout the EU are obliged to systematically and consistently record the working hours of their employees throughout the EU. The individual member states of the EU are obliged to pass a corresponding law. However, it is up to the member states themselves how the mandatory time recording is specifically regulated.

The starting point of the ECJ ruling was the legal dispute of a Spanish trade union with the Spanish branch of a German bank. The union argued that Deutsche Bank had to introduce a working time tracking system so that compliance with the agreed working time could be checked and saw, among other things, the EU Working Time Directive as the basis. The competent Spanish court presented the case to the ECJ for decision.

The verdict of the ECJ confirms that employers are obliged to record the working hours of their employees. The court argues that compliance with working time regulations can only be controlled and demanded if the working hours of employees are comprehensively covered.

The decision of the European Court of Justice does not contain any stipulations regarding how working time is to be recorded. However, it is certainly not an optimal solution to use handwritten notes for recording the working hours of employees. Apart from the fact that the risk of receiving inaccurate data is high, a handwritten work time recording causes a lot of extra work for the employees. As a result, valuable working time is lost, which in the worst case has negative effects on the profitability of a business.

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