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Understanding the Maximum Average Working Time in the EU

Ensuring Compliance with Maximum Working Time and Rest Periods in the EU - Computer Screen and Hourglasses on Desk


Legislation on Maximum Working Time in the EU

In the European Union, the well-being of employees and a healthy work-life balance have been safeguarded by legislation governing the maximum average working time. European labour law aims to promote the physical and mental health of workers by protecting them from excessive working hours.

The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union

The right to fair working conditions is established in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European UnionAccording to Article 31(2) of the Charter, every worker is entitled to a limitation of maximum working hours as well as daily and weekly rest periods and an annual period of paid leave.

Legal Force of the Charter

The Charter is the EU’s bill of human rights and a part of primary EU law. Article 6(1) of the Treaty on European Union grants the Charter the same legal force as the Treaties on which the Union is based (the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union). As reflected in Article 53 of the Charter and stated by the Court of Justice of the European Union, the level of protection of fundamental rights established by the Charter is always considered a minimum standard for national actions implementing EU law (Case C-617/10, Åkerberg Fransson, paragraph 29).

The European Working Time Directive

Common minimum standards for the organization of working time across Member States are set out in the European Working Time Directive (Directive 2003/88/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 4 November 2003 concerning certain aspects of the organisation of working time). The Directive is a key part of EU labour law with the aim of protecting workers’ health and safety from the risks posed by overwork or inadequate rest periods.

Maximum Working Hours and Rest Periods

Under the Directive, each Member State must (as a minimum) ensure that the maximum average working time for employees does not exceed 48 hours per week, including overtime. To calculate the 48-hour limit, weekly working hours may be averaged over up to 4 months (the default provision), 6 months (by law, in certain activities), or 12 months (only by collective bargaining).

Minimum Rest Periods and Annual Leave

The Directive also establishes minimum daily and weekly rest periods, minimum paid annual leave, and additional protection for night workers. However, it is important to point out that individual Member States may implement laws that are more favourable to workers.

Concurrent Contracts

In 2021, the Court of Justice of the European Union dealt with the issue of multiple employment contracts for one employee with the same employer. The Court addressed the question of whether the Directive sets absolute limits in the event of concurrent contracts with one or more employers or if the provisions of the Directive apply to each employment relationship separately. The Court held that the minimal daily rest period applies to the contracts as a whole rather than to each one separately.

The European Pillar of Social Rights

Ensuring healthy and safe working conditions is one of the concepts of the European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR). The Pillar establishes 20 key principles outlining the fundamental rights and support mechanisms essential for improving living and working conditions as well as raising social standards throughout EU Member States. Among these principles, Principle 10 specifically addresses the importance of a healthy, safe, and well-adapted work environment (Healthy, safe and well-adapted work environment and data protection). The integration of work-life balance policies is a critical element of creating such an environment.

Impact of the European Pillar of Social Rights

Although not legally binding, the European Pillar of Social Rights is more than simply a theoretical framework; it is actively shaping practices and policies across Europe by encouraging Member States to update their social and employment laws and standards. Additionally, the implementation of steps by Member States to comply with Principle 10 has been supported by EU funding and legislative initiatives.


In closing, the requirement to ensure a safe and healthy working environment is at the core of EU labour law, and workers are entitled to a high degree of protection for their health and safety at work. In that regard, it is important to raise awareness of existing social rights and better support their implementation by Member States.

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Picture of JUDr. Zora Saskia Klučka, LL.M.

JUDr. Zora Saskia Klučka, LL.M.