The Working Hours Act (Arbeidstijdenwet) prescribes the maximum number of hours your employees can work per day or per week. Employees can sometimes work longer, but only if the work cannot be done in any other way, for example in the event of a disaster or in periods of peak workload. Your collective labour agreement (Collectieve arbeidsovereenkomst, CAO) may contain different provisions, but most CAOs specify a 40-hour maximum working week. Special arrangements may also be made in the CAO, such as for working in tropical temperatures; or, by contrast, during a period of sub-zero temperatures.
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Statutory working hours
Employees aged 18 and over can work a maximum of 12 hours per day and 60 hours per week. However, they cannot work that maximum number of hours every week, but rather a maximum average of:
- 48 hours over a 16-week period, or
- 55 hours in up to 4 consecutive weeks.
Exceptions are possible, for example seasonal work, peak times or in the event of unforeseen circumstances such as a serious accident on the shop floor. In such cases, your employees can temporarily work more hours per day. Exceptions are possible if permitted in your CAO or if industry-level agreements are in place on these issues.
To whom does it apply?
The Working Hours Act applies to all your employees, including temporary agency staff, ‘payrollers’, secondees and trainees. You can only deviate from the Working Hours Act if an employee is earning more than three times the minimum wage per year. The Act does not apply to self-employed professionals, except where the safety of third parties is an issue, e.g. for self-employed drivers in road transport.
What about commuting time?
Time spent commuting between home and work does not constitute working time, but travel between work sites and for work purposes does. A few exceptions also apply with regard to commuting between home and work, for example, if you instruct an employee to pick up or drop off colleagues at home in a company vehicle, these trips do count as travel for work purposes as far as that employee is concerned. For the colleagues, the trips still count as commuting.
Your employees are entitled to breaks. The Act specifies how much break time they are allowed for given numbers of hours worked.
Overtime hours count towards the statutory maximum hours your employee can work for you, i.e. 12 hours per day or 60 hours per week. The Act does not state how much extra pay your employee has to receive for overtime. You can make your own arrangements for this in your terms of employment, or there are overtime provisions in your CAO.
Time worked only counts as night work if your employee works at least one hour between 00.00 and 06.00 a.m. A night shift can last a maximum of 10 hours, and must be followed by an extra long rest period. Exceptions apply, for example, if the number of night shifts per year is limited or if there is no substitute for your employee and the work needs to be done. There are also rules governing how many night shifts your employee can work per year. Please note: If this is your employee’s first night shift, they must undergo a health check-up before going on duty. Any employee who fails the health check-up must return to daytime work as soon as possible.