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How many hours can employees work?

Publishing date: 3 September 2020

   Nederlandse versie

The Working Hours Act prescribes the maximum number of hours employees may work. The Labour Inspectorate may impose a fine or even stop work if a company repeatedly fails to comply with the rules. In order to allow monitoring, employers are obliged to record the hours worked by employees.

In addition, employers must ensure that employees are aware of the working hours within the company and overwork arrangements. This can be achieved, for instance, by including them in staff regulations or a personnel handbook. Changes in the work and rest pattern must be announced by the employer at least 28 days in advance. These rules must, of course, comply with the legal requirements. What are the main rules for working hours?

Main lines

The Working Hours Act (arbeidstijdenwet) and the Working Hours Decree (arbeidstijdenbesluit) prescribe in detail how many hours may be worked consecutively and what the maximum number of permitted working hours per week is. There are also rules for rest periods, breaks, working on Sundays and public holidays and night shifts. In addition there are special rules for on-call service, certain professions and for children of 12 years and older. The following are the main rules for employees aged 18 and over. Employees who earn three times the minimum wage are not subject to these rules.

Maximum working hours

Employees may work a maximum of 12 consecutive hours. Working time may not exceed 60 hours per week. No more than 55 hours per week on average may be worked over a period of 4 weeks. Over a period of 16 weeks, this maximum average is 48 hours.

Minimum rest periods

Employees must have a continuous break of at least 11 hours in each 24-hour period. This period may be limited once a week to 8 hours. In addition, the employee must be off from work for at least 36 consecutive hours each week, or 72 hours every two weeks. In the latter case, there may be at least two rest periods of at least 32 hours.


Employees are entitled to at least half an hour’s break per shift of at least 5.5 hours. This break may be split up into breaks of at least 15 minutes. If the employee works for more than 10 hours, he is entitled to a break of 45 minutes. This may also be divided into breaks of at least 15 minutes.


The employer must ensure that the employee does not have to work on Sunday unless this is necessary and agreed with the employee. If the employee performs work on Sunday, he is entitled to 13 free Sundays per 52 weeks. If employees celebrate a different weekly day of rest, the Sunday rule applies to them. However, this must be requested in writing.

Night shifts

Night shifts may not exceed 10 hours. If an employee is on night shifts, the maximum hours he may work will be reduced. This is subject to very detailed regulations, depending on the number of night shifts worked in a given period of time.

On-call services

Only employees aged 18 years or over may perform on-call services. They do not have to be at the workplace but must be available for work. The employee may not have more than 14 on-call shifts per 4 weeks. The employee may not perform on-call shifts when he is on night shifts. If an employee is regularly on on-call shifts, the maximum hours he may work per week, 4 weeks and 16 weeks will be reduced. This is subject to very detailed regulations.

Special regulations

In addition to the statutory regulations, the employer must also take into account the employee’s personal circumstances. This includes, among other things, the employee’s caring responsibilities, social responsibilities and the organisation of parental leave. Lower maximum working hours apply to pregnancy.

Special rules also apply to professions such as mining, the offshore industry, the baking industry and the cultural sector. Children under the age of 12 may only work with an exemption. Children between 12 and 18 may only perform light work. They are also subject to lower maximum hours and they are not allowed to work night shifts.


If violations of the Working Hours Act are observed, a fine may be imposed. In the event of repetition of these violations, a warning can be given. If, after this warning, the company still does not comply with the working hours, then even the work can be stopped.

In the event of serious violations, a warning can be given immediately. Serious violations include exceeding the maximum working hours by twice or at least halving the prescribed rest periods. Work performed by children under the age of 12 without an exemption is also a serious violation.

More information

Do you have any questions about working hours and rest periods? Would you like us to draft a personnel handbook? Or do you want us to check whether your recording of working hours complies with the legal requirements? Or do you have any other questions concerning employment law? Please contact:

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