Working Hours Act

Published by:
Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment, SZW
Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment, SZW
Checked 2 Apr 2024
4 min read
Nederlandse versie

The Working Hours Act (Arbeidstijdenwet) sets the maximum number of hours your employees can work per day or per week. Employees can sometimes work longer, but only if there is no other way. You may not change working hours just like that.

Statutory working hours

Working hours are the hours your employee works for you. The law (arbeidstijdenwet) determines how many hours someone is allowed to work. Employees aged 18 and over can work a maximum of 12 hours per day and 60 hours per week. This is not allowed every week. Your employee may work an average of:

  • 48 hours a week over a 16-week period, or
  • 55 hours per week over a 4-week period.

Exceptions working hours

There are exceptions. For example, for seasonal work or during peak times. Or in unexpected situations, such as a serious accident on the work floor. For example, because extra supervision is needed. Your employees may then temporarily work more hours per day. This is also permitted if it is stated in your collective labour agreement (CAO) or if there are agreements about it. Different rules for working hours and rest periods apply to a number of employees and professions (in Dutch). There are also separate rules for work by minors and young adults. And for working new and expectant mothers.

Working hours obligations

There are several obligations that you must comply with as an employer. For example, you must keep track of the hours worked. You must also take the employees' personal circumstances into account.

Do the working hours apply to all employees?

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 earns more than 3 times the minimum wage per year. The Act does not apply to self-employed professionals. Unless other people's safety is at risk. For example, self-employed truck drivers must adhere to driving hours and rest periods.

Can you change working hours just like that?

If you want to change the work schedule, you must announce it to your employees on time. This must be done at least 28 days in advance. Unless other agreements have been made about this.

What about commuting time?

Time spent commuting between home and work is not work time. Travel between work sites and for work purposes does count as working time. A few exceptions also apply regarding 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 for that employee. For the colleagues, the trips still count as a commute.

Are breaks part of working hours?

A break is not working time (in Dutch). A break is intended as an interruption of working time. During breaks, your employee is not entitled to wages. Unless you have agreements for continued pay during the break.

The following rules apply to breaks:

  • If an employee works for more than 5½ hours, they are entitled to a 30 minute break. This may be split into two 15-minute breaks;
  • If an employee works for more than 10 hours, they must have at least a 45 minutes break. This may be split into several breaks, each of which must be at least 15 minutes.
  • Do you have a CAO? Then you may make other agreements about breaks. But your employee is still entitled to 1 break of 15 minutes after 5.5 hours of work.
  • Your employees may not start or end a workday with a break.

When does a break not apply?

In 2 situations, your employees are allowed to continue working without taking a break:

  • Your employee works alone and has no direct contact with a colleague doing the same work.
  • The nature of the work makes it impossible to take a break. This must be in the CAO or company regulations.

Does overtime fall under statutory working hours?

Overtime hours count towards the statutory maximum hours your employee can work for you. That is 12 hours per day or 60 hours per week. The Act does not state how much extra pay your employee must receive for overtime. You can make your own arrangements for this in your terms of employment, or there might be overtime agreements in your CAO.

When are working hours a night shift?

Time worked counts as night work if your employee works more than 1 hour between 00:00 and 06:00 CE(S)T. A night shift can last a maximum of 10 hours. It must be followed by an extra long rest period. Exceptions apply. For example, if there are few night shifts per year. Or if there is no replacement for your employee and the work really needs to be finished. There are rules for how many night shifts (in Dutch) your employee may work per year.

Maximum number of night shifts and exemptions

Your employee may work a maximum of 117 night shifts per year. Only in special cases may your employee work 140 night shifts. Does your employee always work at night? Then your employee must apply for a Permanent Night Work Waiver (Ontheffing Permanente Nachtarbeid aanvragen, in Dutch). If the waiver is granted, they may work a maximum of 20 night shifts per 4 weeks. So, a total of 260 per year.

Does your employee want to work more or fewer hours?

Does your employee want to work more or fewer hours than you have agreed? If so, you must always approve this. You may only refuse if you can show that your business will suffer. Your employee may ask for an adjustment 6months after being employed. And once a year thereafter. Does an employee's personal situation change unexpectedly? Then they may make a 2nd request. The adjustment may be temporary.

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Questions relating to this article?

Please contact the Netherlands Enterprise Agency, RVO