Technology and Software

Working time directive, 11 hours rule and 48 hours rule. What is what?

Updated October 2023. After a couple of years without significant updates on the EU working time directive and the implementation of the proposal, we have news. It is still unclear exactly when the law will come into force in Denmark, but it will probably be from January 2024. Learn what the working time directive will mean for your business. 

working time directive
15 Jan 2020 | 4 min read
Andreas Agerlund Petersen
Journalist, Brand Manager and business aficionado. Andreas' long reads keep you updated on business optimization, project management, legislation and the PSA concept.

Working time directive

As employer you have a number of obligations towards your employees, among other things, their working time.

Some of them are formalised in the EU’s working time directive.

The working time directive ensures minimum standards within all European countries and contains rules such as the 11 hours rule/rest period, the 48 hours rule and rules about breaks and vacation.

Luckily, you do not need to read the entire directive yourself.

We provide an overview of the most important things you need to know here.

11 hours rule secures the employees’ spare time

According to the working time directive, your employees have the right to have rest periods on all days in the week.

This means the employees must have 11 consecutive hours of rest outside the workspace within 24 hours.

They are not allowed to work more than 13 hours in a row. The 11 hours cannot be split into several shorter periods.

In special cases, the rest period can be 8 hours, but there are several deviations and exceptions to the rule. You can get an overview of all of them here.

48 hours rule sets limits for overtime work

Even though you are very busy and the customers push for deadlines, you as an employer has the responsibility that your employees do not accept a too high workload.

The 48 hours rule determines that an employee cannot work more than 48 hours a week on average within a period of four months.

As an employer, it is your responsibility that the employees do not violate the rule.

Time tracking a demand from EU in 2019

If a judicial dispute arise between employer and employee about the 48 hours rule, it may be difficult for the employee to satisfy the burden of proof.

To enforce the rules bout working time, the EU Court of Justice in 2019 decided that you as employer need to implement a time tracking system.

EU har fastsat regler for tidsregistrering

It is a requirement that the system in an objective and reliable way should register the employees’ actual daily working time.

In other words, paper slips and gut feeling are not sufficient.

Be at the forefront of the legislation and try TimeLog 30 days for free

The ruling says that it is up to each member state to set the requirements for a time tracking system.

Employees must remember breaks

If your employees work more than six hours a day, the states they have the right to have rest breaks.

Contrary to the 11 hours rules, there are no fixed lengths for the rest breaks. But the directive states that the break has to be long enough to actually be a break.

Two minutes breaks are not enough, if the employee needs to relax or eat lunch.

There are no rules about when to have the breaks during the work day.

Minimum one day off a week

Besides the time off provided by the 11 hours rule, your employees need 24 hours of consecutive rest at least one day a week.

The 24 hours need to be linked to a period of 11 hours rest.

This means that the employee in reality has 35 consecutive hours of ret around a day off.

The weekly day off should as far as possible be placed on Sundays.

Demand for four weeks paid vacation

In addition to rest periods and days off, your employees have the right to have four weeks of paid vacation each year.

You cannot pay your employees to have less vacation a year. An exception from this is if an employee’s employment ends, and (s)he has not had time to have four weeks of vacation.


In relation to the 48 hours rule, you or the employees are not allowed to include the vacation periods when calculating the average.

Night duty must not be too long

There are a number of special rules related to night duty.

While the 48 hours rule set a maximum average over a period of seven days, night workers are not allowed to work more than eight hours on average within 24 hours a day measured over four months.

In addition, you must offer your night workers free health check before they start working at night. Hereafter, there must be no more then three years between the health checks.

Keep track of working time (and create a better business)

Would you like to make sure that your employees work within the working time directive?

Then you can try TimeLog for free in 30 days.

TimeLog provides a good overview of the employees’ working time, flex, vacation and absence. The system integrates to a number of salary and finance systems, which makes salary management and invoicing lightning fast – and without errors.

At the same time, you can follow your company’s key figures in the advanced reporting and plan the working time optimally with the resource planner.

That is good business.

Click here to see our sample offer!