EU’s working time directive – what’s that?

EU’s working time directive. It can sound boring and irrelevant but it is far from it. We will give you the overview of the rules in the working time directive so you will know how to follow them.  

The EU’s working time directive is a part of ensuring safe minimum standards for the rights of European wage earners, e.g. concerning the amount of working hours, breaks and time off. The directive will be imposed on all European countries as a minimum to secure the individual country’s conditions for their wage earners, but in several countries there can be better conditions than what the EU’s working time directive is imposing. 

Because of this, it is important to know the details in the EU’s working time directive. It can have consequences for the employer if the rules are not followed. We have highlighted the most important rules and information from the directive that you should know.

The 11-hour rule

The 11-hour rule sets the framework for how much time off wage earners are entitled to take between working hours. Here it is stated that wage earners are entitled to 11 hours of time off from the moment they leave the working place or the work ends until they have to start working again. In special cases this amount can be scaled down to 8 hours. Read more about the 11-hour rule here.

The 48-hour rule

The 48 hour rule is the rule of how much you on average are allowed to work in a week. It says that an employee can work a maximum of 48 hours in a 7 days period on average during a period of 4 months – this includes overtime. If the rule is transgressed it can have financial consequences for you as an employer. You can read more about the financial consequences and the 48 hour rule in general right here.

Day off

The working time directive also has the demand that wage earners are entitled one weekly resting period as a minimum during 24 hours plus the daily 11-hour resting period. Thereby a wage earner has the right to get as a minimum one weekly day off work. 


The directive makes it clear that a wage earner is entitled to a break when the working time surpasses 6 hours. The length of the break is not determined but it is stated that it should be of such scope that ‘’the break’s purpose is accommodated’’ (ed.). As an example for that, the wage earner must have enough time to be able to e.g. eat lunch during a lunch break. 

Besides the mentioned it appears from the directive that the employer is a part of determining when the break must be placed. In the law it is stated that ‘’the break is calculated according to the workplace’s normal rules for calculating working hours’’ (ed.).   

Paid vacation

Vacation is also a factor for which there have been imposed rules. It appears that all European wage earners have the right to a minimum of 4 weeks paid vacation annually. 

Night shifts

Concerning night shifts the directive states that nighttime work has to be limited to be 8 hours for every 24-hour period on average. Besides this the employer is to provide health checks for employees that work night shifts due to proven factors imposing risks when working at night for longer periods. 

How do you ensure that you are following the rules in the EU’s working time directive? 

There is a lot to keep in mind when you have to be aware of both the many rules and every single employee’s working hours. 

As a consequence, it is important to get a full overview of who is on vacation, how many hours Ulla is working, and if she has been on vacation. To make things easier, you can provide your company with a time registration system which can help you avoid making your own small mistakes. At the same time you can always see the updated amount of hours worked of all your employees digitally. This helps make you more aware of following the rules. 

The EU-court sets up demands of time registration

A verdict from the EU-court in a case between a Spanish union and Deutsche Bank in May 2019 has imposed on the member countries to oblige employers to introduce an ‘’objective, reliable and accessible system that makes it possible to measure the length of every individual employee’s daily working hours’’ (ed.). 

Hereby, the court states that the member countries must introduce a time registration system and this can have a particular consequence for the Danish employers in the future. Read more about the EU-court’s verdict here.

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