Maximum number of working hours

Working hours - Maximum number of working hours

The maximum number of working hours sets the limit for an employee’s working hours. Working hours include hours spent working as well as any hours that employees are expected to spend at the workplace at their employer’s disposal.

The working hours must average out at no more than 48 hours per week over a period of four months. Collective agreements for different sectors may contain provisions on the length of the adjustment period that deviate from those of the Working Hours Act.

Maximum number of working hours and working hours monitoring

The limit for the maximum number of working hours applies to total working hours. Thus, the limit does not apply to the maximum number of overtime hours only. The beginning of 2020 brought a shift from overtime monitoring to total working hours monitoring at workplaces.

The ceiling for total working hours applies to all work regardless of how working hours are organised, including, for example, flexible working hours schemes and flexible working time arrangements. The ceiling is calculated on the basis of all hours worked, regardless of whether they are regular working hours, additional work, overtime, emergency work or handovers.

It is important to keep in mind the definition of working hours and only record the actual hours worked in an unambiguous manner. Records of working hours and payroll records must be kept separate.

Maximum number of working hours during each adjustment period and per year

The provision concerning the absolute ceiling for the total number of working hours constitutes mandatory law. Working hours are calculated per employee and across adjustment periods the length of which must be determined in advance.

Pursuant to the Working Hours Act, the rule of thumb is that employees’ total working hours, including any overtime, must not exceed an average of 48 hours per week over a four-month period. Each of these four-month adjustment periods are treated as separate entities.

However, national collective agreements can be used to agree on extending the adjustment period to six months or, for technical or practical reasons, up to a maximum of 12 months. Correspondingly, the maximum number of hours that employees can work depends on the length of the adjustment period, which can thus vary from 4 to 12 months.

The Working Hours Act does not specify a time as of which adjustment periods must be observed or the way in which the start dates and lengths of adjustment periods should be regulated by national collective agreements. The starting point of the adjustment periods can thus be agreed in whichever manner is the most practical in the sector in which the employer operates.

From the perspective of compliance with the Working Hours Act and keeping track of employees’ working hours, the starting point should be that the maximum working hours are monitored over regular four-month periods. The hours of any temporary workers must be monitored from the beginning of their contract.  

Considering the provisions of the Annual Holidays Act on the granting of annual holiday, the maximum number of hours that employees can work each year on the basis of the Working Hours Act is approximately 2,300 hours (48 hours x the number of working weeks).

Transitional provisions

Employers have until 1 January 2021 to introduce a monitoring system based on the monitoring of maximum working hours. This leaves a transitional period of just over one year during which employers can use either a monitoring system for monitoring the maximum number of overtime based on the old provisions or a system based on monitoring employees’ total working hours under the new provisions.

The purpose of this transitional period is to give time for employers to adjust their working hours monitoring systems so that they meet the requirements of the new Working Hours Act and to enable the transition to total working hours monitoring in a period most suitable in terms of operations. The transition from monitoring the maximum number of overtime to monitoring total working hours could cause problems for employers, if the transition took place in the middle of an adjustment period or other review period.