Hours of work
Certain industries and job categories are exempt from the hours of work rules set out in the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA). For more information please refer to the Guide to employment standards special rules and exemptions.
Use the Employment Standards Self-Service Tool to check compliance with rules on hours of work and other employment standards entitlements.
Daily and weekly limits on hours of work
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 an electronic or written agreement between the employee and employer.
The maximum number of hours most employees can be required to work in a week is 48 hours. The weekly maximum can be exceeded only if there is an electronic or written agreement between the employee and employer.
An agreement between an employee and an employer to work additional daily or weekly hours, does not relieve an employer from the requirement to pay overtime pay where overtime hours are worked.
It is necessary to determine what counts as work time (hours of work) for the purposes of determining compliance with certain standards under the Employment Standards Act (ESA), including the minimum wage, overtime and hours of work (including rest entitlements) provisions.
Generally, work is considered to be performed when the employee is actually working or the employee is not working but is required to stay at the workplace. However, even if the employee is required to stay, he or she is not considered to be working during the time that he or she is entitled to take time off and does take time off for:
- an eating period;
- sleeping (provided that the employer provides the sleeping facilities and the employee is entitled to at least six uninterrupted hours off work); or
- engaging in private affairs or pursuits.
Note that an employee who is not at the workplace but is “on call” is not considered to be working unless the on-call employee is called into work.
Commuting time and travel during the workday are treated differently under the ESA.
Commuting time is the time it takes an employee to get to work from home and vice-versa. This is not counted as work time for the purposes of the ESA.
However, there are a number of exceptions to this rule.
- If the employee takes a work vehicle home in the evening for the convenience of the employer, the work time begins when the employee leaves home in the morning and ends when he or she arrives home in the evening.
- If the employee is required to transport other staff or supplies to or from the workplace or work site, time so spent must be counted as work time.
- If the employee has a usual workplace but is required to travel to another location to perform work, the time traveling to and from that other location is counted as work time.
Time spent travelling during the course of the workday is considered to be work time.
Time spent by an employee in training that is required by the employer or by law is counted as work time. For example, where the training is required because the employee is a new employee or where it is required as a condition of continued employment in a position, the training time is considered to be work time.
Time spent in training that is not required by the employer or by law in order for an employee to do his or her job is not counted as work time. For example, where an employee hoping for a promotion with the employer takes training in order to qualify for it, time spent taking the training is not considered to be work time.
Electronic and written agreement requirements for exceeding limits on hours of work
Please note: Employers are no longer required to apply to the Director of Employment Standards for approval of excess weekly hours or overtime averaging agreements.
An employer and an employee can agree electronically or in writing that the employee will work more than:
- eight hours a day or their 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 most recent 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 pay rules in the ESA. In order to be valid, the agreement must 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’ notice in writing or electronically, while 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.
Hours free from work
Employees are entitled to a certain number of hours free from having to work.
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 electronically or writing that the employee’s hours of work will exceed the daily limit.
- the employer and employee have agreed in electronically or writing that the employee’s hours of work will exceed the weekly limit.
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 an electronic or written agreement between the employer and employee.
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 electronically or in writing that the employee will receive less than eight hours off work between shifts.
An employee who works a split shift (e.g. 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.) does not have to receive eight hours off between shifts.
Weekly or bi-weekly
Employees must receive at least:
- 24 consecutive hours off work in each work week;
- 48 consecutive hours off work in every period of two consecutive work weeks.
In exceptional circumstances, and only so far as is necessary to avoid serious interference with the ordinary operation of the business, 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);
- 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.
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.
Note: 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.
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.