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Hours of Work

This guide is provided for your information and convenience only. It is not a legal document. For complete information, refer to the Employment Standards Act, 2000 and its regulations.

Certain industries and job categories are exempt from the hours of work rules set out in the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA). Please refer to the Special Rule Tool for more information.

Daily and Weekly Limits on Hours of Work

Daily Limit

The maximum number of hours most employees can be required to work in a day is eight hours or the number of hours in an established regular workday, if it is longer than eight hours. The only way the daily maximum can be exceeded is by written agreement.

Weekly Limit

The maximum number of hours most employees can be required to work in a week is 48 hours. The weekly maximum can be exceeded by written agreement and approval of the Director of Employment Standards. However, the ESA provides a limited exception where an application for approval is pending. If, after 30 days after serving an application for excess hours on the Director, the employer has not received an approval or notice of refusal, the employer  may require employees to start working more than 48 hours as long as certain conditions are met including, the employee does not work more than 60 hours in a work week or the number of hours the employee agreed to in writing, whichever is less.    

An agreement between an employee and an employer to work additional daily or weekly hours, or an approval from the Director of Employment Standards for excess weekly hours, does not relieve an employer from the requirement to pay overtime.

See also: What Counts as Work Time | Daily and Weekly Hours of Work.

Written Agreement Requirements for Exceeding Limits on Hours of Work

An employer and an employee can agree in writing that the employee will work more than:

  • eight hours a day;
  • his or her established regular workday--if it is longer than eight hours;
  • 48 hours a week.

These agreements are valid only if, prior to making the agreement, the employer gives the employee the Information Sheet for Employees About Hours of Work and Overtime Pay prepared by the Director of Employment Standards that describes the hours of work and overtime rules in the ESA. In order to be valid, the agreement must also include a statement in which the employee acknowledges receipt of the Information Sheet.

In most cases, an employee can cancel an agreement to work more hours by giving the employer two weeks' written notice and an employer can cancel the agreement by providing reasonable notice. Once the agreement is revoked an employee is not permitted to work excess daily or weekly hours even if the employer has an approval from the Director of Employment Standards for excess weekly hours.

Director Approval Required to Exceed Weekly Limits on Hours of Work

Employers who would like to make an application for approval for excess weekly hours are required to make their application in a form provided by the Ministry of Labour. An employer who makes an application for excess weekly hours must post a copy of the application in their workplace on the day the application is submitted in accordance with the ESA where it is likely to come to the attention of the employee(s) identified in the application. When the approval or a notice of refusal of the application is received, this must be posted in place of the application.

Hours Free from Work

Employees are entitled to a certain number of hours free from having to work.

Daily

In most cases, an employee must receive at least 11 consecutive hours off work each day. Generally, an employee and an employer cannot agree to less than 11 consecutive hours off work each day. The daily rest requirement applies even if:

  • the employer and the employee have agreed in writing that the employee's hours of work will exceed the daily limit.
  • the employer and employee have agreed in writing that the employee's hours of work will exceed the weekly limit and the employer has received an approval from the Director of Employment Standards to exceed weekly limits on hours of work.

This rule does not apply to employees who are on call and called in to work during a period when they would not normally be working.

This requirement cannot be altered by a written agreement between the employer and employee.

See also: Daily Rest: 11 Hour Rule.

Between Shifts

Employees must receive at least eight hours off work between shifts.

This does not apply if the total time worked on both shifts is not more than 13 hours.

An employee and employer can also agree in writing that the employee will receive less than eight hours off work between shifts.

See also: Rest Between Shifts.

Split shifts

Mabel works in a restaurant. She is on split shifts, working from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. and then from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. The total time of her two shifts is 10 hours. Mabel does not have to have eight hours off between the split shifts, because the hours she worked do not exceed 13 hours.

Weekly or Bi-Weekly

Employees must receive at least:

  • 24 consecutive hours off work in each work week;
    or
  • 48 consecutive hours off work in every period of two consecutive work weeks.

See also: Weekly or Biweekly Free Time.

Exceptional Circumstances

In exceptional circumstances, and only so far as is necessary to avoid serious interference with the ordinary working of the employer's establishment or operations, an employer can require an employee to work:

  • more than the normal limit of eight hours a day, or the established regular work day if that is longer;
  • more than the 48 hours per week (or the greater number of weekly hours agreed to and which are the subject of an approval from the Director of Employment Standards);
  • during a required period free from work (see Hours Free From Work).

Exceptional circumstances exist when:

  • there is an emergency;
  • something unforeseen occurs that interrupts the continued delivery of essential public services, regardless of who delivers these services (for example, hospital, public transit or firefighting services, even if the employee only indirectly supports these services, such as an employee of a company that is contracted to prepare and deliver patient meals to a hospital);
  • something unforeseen occurs that would interrupt continuous processes;
  • something unforeseen occurs that would interrupt seasonal operations (that is, operations that are limited to or dependent on specific conditions or events--such as winter ski operations);
  • it is necessary to carry out urgent repair work to the employer's plant or equipment.

Here are some examples:

  • natural disasters (very extreme weather);
  • major equipment failures;
  • fire and floods;
  • an accident or breakdown in machinery that would prevent others in the workplace from doing their jobs (for example, the shutdown of an assembly line in a manufacturing plant).

Here are examples of situations that do not fall under the exceptional circumstances exemption:

  • when rush orders are being filled;
  • during inventory taking;
  • when an employee does not show up for work;
  • when poor weather slows shipping or receiving;
  • during seasonal busy periods (such as Christmas);
  • during routine or scheduled maintenance.

Eating Periods and Breaks

Employers are required to provide eating periods to employees, but they are not required to provide other types of breaks.

Eating Periods

An employee must not work for more than five hours in a row without getting a 30-minute eating period (meal break) free from work. However, if the employer and employee agree, the eating period can be split into two eating periods within every five consecutive hours. Together these must total at least 30 minutes. This agreement can be oral or in writing.

Meal breaks are unpaid unless the employee's employment contract requires payment. Even if the employer pays for meal breaks, the employee must be free from work in order for the time to be considered a meal break.

See also: Eating Periods.

Meal breaks, whether paid or unpaid, are not considered hours of work, and are not counted toward overtime.

Coffee Breaks and Breaks Other Than Eating Periods

Employers are required to provide employees with eating periods as described above.  Employers do not have to give employees “coffee” breaks or any other kind of break.   

Employees who are required to remain at the workplace during a coffee break or breaks other than eating periods must be paid at least the minimum wage for that time. If an employee is free to leave the workplace, the employer does not have to pay for the time.

Night Shifts

The ESA does not put restrictions on the timing of an employee's shift other than the requirements for daily rest and rest between shifts described earlier in this chapter. In addition the ESA does not require an employer to provide transportation to or from work if an employee works late, although individual contracts of employment or a collective agreement may require that transportation be provided.

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