Working Hours Act - maximum working hours, rest periods and Sunday work

Time recording law office

Our working world has changed dramatically in recent decades: Flexible working time models and increasing digitalization are blurring the boundaries between our working and private lives. The Working Hours Act is therefore an important instrument for protecting the health and rights of employees. It sets out the legal framework for working hours and prevents excessive stress in order to avoid long-term damage to health. In this article, you can find out what the Working Hours Act prescribes with regard to maximum working hours, breaks, weekend work and time recording.


Definitions and regulations of the Working Hours Act

The Working Hours Act (ArbZG) regulates the maximum duration of daily working hours, breaks and rest periods as well as special working time regulations for certain occupational groups. It aims to protect and maintain the health and safety of employees and to ensure a balance between work and leisure time.

The Working Hours Act defines

  1. Maximum working time
  2. Rest breaks
  3. Rest periods
  4. Night and shift work
  5. Work on Sundays and public holidays
  6. Special regulations - There are additional protective regulations and deviations from the general Working Hours Act for young people, pregnant women and nursing mothers as well as for certain sectors.

Maximum working hours and weekly working hours

The maximum working time is the legally stipulated maximum duration that employees may work per day.

According to Section 3 of the Working Hours Act (ArbZG), the daily working time may not exceed eight hours.

It can be extended to up to ten hours if an average of eight hours per working day is not exceeded within six calendar months or within 24 weeks.

The Working Hours Act does not explicitly specify the maximum weekly working hours, as the regulations on maximum daily working hours and rest periods also determine the maximum weekly working hours. A six-day working week results in a maximum weekly working time of 48 hours.

Rest breaks

Paragraph 4 of the Working Hours Act (ArbZG) regulates when and for how long someone must take a break from work:

  • If employees work more than six hours, they must take a rest break of at least 30 minutes.
  • If they work for more than nine hours, a rest break of at least 45 minutes is mandatory.

Breaks must always be taken during working hours. Employees may not take them before or after work, i.e. they may not start later or end their working day earlier. This is the only way employees can really recover from their work. However, breaks do not have to be taken in one go: Breaking them up into blocks of at least 15 minutes or longer is permitted.

In addition, rest breaks must be "fixed in advance " - employees must therefore know when and for how long they should take their break. Employers can simply provide their employees with a time slot for breaks - similar to flexitime - for example between 11:30 and 14:00.

Employees can decide for themselves how they want to spend their break. They are free to decide whether they would rather have lunch or go for a walk. They are also allowed to leave the workplace during their break, unless the employment contract stipulates otherwise.

There are some groups of people who are not affected by the statutory break times. These are, for example, senior executives, chief physicians or employees who care for family members. All exceptions are listed in Section 18 of the Working Hours Act (ArbZG).

Want to find out more about statutory break times? Then our article Statutory break times - rules and violations may be of interest to you.

Rest periods

The rest period is the time between two working days or shifts during which no work is permitted. According to Section 5 of the Working Hours Act (ArbZG) must be at least eleven hours. This means that employees may not be deployed for at least eleven hours after the end of the daily working time before the next working day or shift begins.

There are exceptions in the following sectors and facilities:

  • Hospitals
  • Care and nursing facilities
  • Restaurant and accommodation industry
  • Transportation
  • Broadcasting
  • Agriculture
  • Animal husbandry

Time Tracking

The Working Hours Act requires the recording of hours worked in excess of the working day working time of eight hours - the Working Hours Act therefore only provides binding information on overtime.

However, in its ruling of September 13, 2022 (Ref. 1 ABR 22/21), the Federal Labor Court (BAG) determined that employers in Germany must record all of their employees' working hours.

The obligation to record hours relates to the start, end and duration of the daily working time. The BAG does not make any statements regarding the recording of breaks - however, the daily working time can only be accurately documented if breaks are also recorded.

In addition, Section 3 (2) No. 1 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (ArbSchG) obliges employers to introduce a systemwith which the hours worked can be recorded.

Back in 2019, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that member states must oblige employers to set up an objective, reliable and accessible system for recording working hours. With the BAG's decision, this ruling must now finally be observed by German employers.

Automatic break deduction - is that allowed?

The Working Hours Act obliges employers to determine breaks in advance and to grant them. For this reason, automatic break deduction via a time recording system is permitted. However, employers must check that employees actually take their breaks. If this is not done, employers can be held liable.

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Night and shift work

Special regulations apply to night work and shift work. Night work is defined as work that covers more than two hours of the night period between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Anyone whoregularly has towork night shifts or performs night work on at least 48 days per calendar year meets the criteria of a night worker.

Night workers enjoy special protection: although they may also have working days of up to 10 hours, these must be compensated within a calendar month or within 4 weeks.

In addition, they are entitled to a night bonus - either in the form of paid days off or an appropriate increase in their gross salary.

In many industries, night work is unavoidable, but this entails particular physical and mental stress for employees. Night workers therefore have special rights with regard to their health. They are allowed to have an occupational health examination once before starting work and every 3 years thereafter. Employees over the age of 50 can have an annual check-up.

If one of these examinations shows that the employee's health is at risk, a change to a daytime workplace can be requested - provided there are no urgent operational requirements to the contrary. In case of doubt, the works council will mediate.

The same applies if employees look after children under the age of 12 or relatives in need of heavy care.

Night workers have the same right to further training as their colleagues who work during the day. They must not be denied access to further training because of their working hours.

Work on Sundays and public holidays

In principle, employees are not allowed to work on Sundays and public holidays - this applies from midnight to midnight. This serves to protect the health and recreation of employees.

There are numerous exceptions that allow certain industries and activities to work on Sundays. These exceptions are listed in Section 10 of the Working Hours Act (ArbZG) and include healthcare, catering, local public transport, the media, energy supply and emergency and rescue services.

If employees have to work on a Sunday, they are entitled to a replacement rest day. This substitute rest day must be granted within two weeks. In the case of work on public holidays, the substitute rest day must be granted within eight weeks. However, at least 15 Sundays per year must remain work-free.

In companies with shift work, the Sunday rest period can be moved forward or back by up to six hours. This means that the rest period can either start at 6 pm on Saturday and end at midnight on Sunday or start at 6 am on Sunday and end at 6 am on Monday. The prerequisite is that the business as a whole is at rest during these 24 hours.

Under certain conditions, drivers are allowed to bring forward the Sunday rest period by up to two hours. This is for the sake of flexibility and better planning in freight and passenger transport, although the statutory rest periods must still be observed in order to ensure the safety and health of drivers.

On-call duty, standby duty and on-call duty

Some industries require employees to be continuously available in order to be able to respond to unforeseen events or emergencies. On-call duty therefore plays an important role in healthcare, production and manufacturing or transportation. Working hours are also regulated by law in this case. Standby duty, on-call duty and on-call duty are three different concepts that differ in their definition and the associated regulations:

Standby duty: Anyone on standby duty waits at the workplace to perform work. This time must be paid in full as working time.

On-call duty: In on-call duty, the employee stays at an agreed location and waits to be called to work. During this time, employees can do other things and even sleep. On-call duty also counts as working time, which is why rest breaks and rest periods apply unchanged. However, on-call duty can be paid at a lower rate.

On-call duty: During on-call duty, the employee is at home or at another freely selectable location and can be called to work at any time. In this case, only the time actually worked is regarded as working time and remunerated accordingly.

What are the rules for teenagers?

In Germany, young people who work are subject to special legal protection provisions. Therefore, the Youth Employment Protection Act (JArbSchG) applies to them instead of the Working Hours Act. The rules for minors are stricter than for adults.

Working hours:

  • Daily working hours: Young people may not work more than eight hours a day.
  • Weekly working time: The working time may not exceed 40 hours per week.
  • In exceptional cases, the daily working time may be extended to up to eight and a half hours if the working time is reduced accordingly on other days of the same week so that the weekly working time does not exceed 40 hours.

Rest breaks:

  • Duration of breaks: If the working time exceeds four and a half hours, a break of at least 30 minutes is mandatory. If the working time exceeds six hours, the break must be at least 60 minutes.
  • Rest period: At the end of the daily working time, young people must have at least twelve hours of uninterrupted free time.

Night work:

  • Ban on night work: Young people may only be employed from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. However, there are exceptions for certain sectors:
    • Young people are allowed to work in bakeries and pastry shops from 5 a.m. onwards.
    • In agriculture, young people are allowed to work from 5 a.m. or until 9 p.m.
    • Young people are allowed to work until 10 p.m. in the catering and fairground trades.
    • In multi-shift operations, young people may be employed until 11 pm.

Weekend work:

  • Saturday work: As a rule, young people may not be employed on Saturdays. Exceptions apply to certain sectors such as healthcare, catering and retail.
  • Sunday work: Sunday work is also generally prohibited, with similar exceptions to Saturday work.
  • Alternative rest day: If young people have to work on a Saturday or Sunday, they are entitled to a corresponding alternative rest day within the same week.

What regulations apply to senior executives?

While the regulations for minors are particularly strict, they are particularly flexible for senior employees. Senior employees can be managing directors, plant managers or persons with independent responsibility for personnel and budgets. The Working Hours Act does not apply to them either. Senior executives are subject to special regulations that are tailored to their position of responsibility and the greater freedom and personal responsibility associated with it.

Working hours: The working time regulations for senior executives are usually governed by the employment contract or individual agreements. There are often no fixed working hours, as executives are expected to organize their working hours independently in order to perform their duties.

Recording working hours: Senior employees are often exempt from the obligation to document their working hours. This reflects the assumption that they can manage their working time independently and in line with the requirements of their position.

Travel time and business trips - is that working time?

Whether the time during the journey counts as working time depends on various factors, in particular the type of activity and the specific circumstances of the journey.

Journeys during working hours:

  • Business trips: Journeys undertaken during working hours to attend official or business appointments count as working time. This applies, for example, to employees working in the field, fitters or business travelers.
  • Business trips: Trips from one customer to another or to different workplaces as part of normal work activities are working time.

Journeys outside regular working hours:

  • Travel to an external place of work: If employees travel from their place of residence to a temporary place of work outside their usual place of work, this travel time generally counts as working time - for example, when traveling to a seminar or training course.
  • Travel by company vehicle: If employees use a company vehicle to travel directly from home to the customer or construction site, this travel time is also considered working time, especially if the employees are already performing work-related tasks during the journey, such as telephone calls or planning the day's work.

Regular commute to work:

  • Commuting to the workplace: The daily journey between the place of residence and the fixed workplace (regular commute) is generally not considered working time. This travel time is regarded as a private matter for the employee.

Special regulations for certain occupational groups:

Violations of the Working Hours Act - consequences

Depending on the federal state, labor inspectorates or occupational health and safety offices are responsible for checking compliance with the Working Hours Act. They may request evidence (working time records, service, company or collective agreements) and enter workplaces. Employers who violate the Working Hours Act (ArbZG) may face various legal and economic consequences:

1. fines

  • Administrative offenses: Violations of the Working Hours Act are considered administrative offenses and can be punished with fines. The fine can be up to 30,000 euros per violation(§ 22 ArbZG).

2. consequences under criminal law

  • Intentional violations: If employers deliberately violate the Working Hours Act and thereby endanger the health or working capacity of an employee, this can be prosecuted as a criminal offense. In such cases, there is a risk of imprisonment for up to one year or a fine(Section 23 ArbZG).

3. consequences under labor law

  • Compensation claims: Employees can assert claims for damages or compensation against employers if they have suffered damages as a result of the violations.
  • Ineffective agreements: Employment contract agreements that violate the Working Hours Act are invalid. Employees are not obliged to work beyond the legally permitted working hours.

4 Consequences under social security law

  • Back payments: Violations of the Working Hours Act can also have an impact on social security contributions. If, for example, overtime is not properly recorded and paid, additional social security contributions may be demanded.

5. damage to image and reputation

  • Public perception: Violations of the Working Hours Act can damage the company's public image. This can have a negative impact on customer loyalty, employee satisfaction and the recruitment of new employees.
  • Loss of trust: If the workforce learns of violations, this can lead to a loss of trust in the company management.

Application of the Working Hours Act - A to-do list for employers

Violations of the Working Hours Act have far-reaching consequences for employers. To prevent this from happening, you should implement the following points in any case.

  • The Working Hours Act is one of the laws that must be posted. Publish it in your company - for example on the notice board - or distribute it digitally. Practical tools are available to make this task easier for you.
  • Set up a reliable system for recording working hours.
  • Record the total daily working time of all your employees.
  • Keep recorded working times for at least two years.
  • Ensure that the daily working time does not exceed eight hours and is only extended to up to ten hours in exceptional cases, provided that compensation is provided within six months or 24 weeks.
  • Make sure that the weekly working time of 48 hours is not exceeded.
  • Make sure that your employees take breaks - at least 30 minutes if they work more than six hours and at least 45 minutes if they work more than nine hours.
  • Ensure that your employees have an uninterrupted rest period of at least eleven hours after the end of the daily working time.
  • Make sure that your employees do not work on Sundays and public holidays - except for the exceptions provided for by law.
  • Ensure that an alternative rest day is taken in the prescribed period when working on Sundays or public holidays.
  • Comply with the special regulations for night work.
  • Pay attention to the special health precautions for night workers.
  • Observe the protection of minors.
  • Initiate immediate corrective measures if violations of the Working Hours Act are detected.

The Federal Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs has compiled a practical but very comprehensive brochure on the Working Hours Act. You can find it here.


The Working Hours Act is relevant for everyone in employment subject to social insurance contributions. The Working Hours Act plays a particularly important role in sectors with high workloads and irregular working hours, such as healthcare or the hospitality industry.

It protects employees and promotes a sustainable way of working. In view of increasing cases of burnout and mental stress, the Working Hours Act provides the necessary legal framework to ensure a balance between working hours and recovery.

Violations of the Working Hours Act have far-reaching consequences for employers. These can range from fines to criminal sanctions. In addition, such violations can lead to considerable damage to the company's image and reputation.

Employers are therefore well advised to take measures to comply with the Working Hours Act and to implement appropriate control and compliance systems.

Working time recording with Sawayo. Digital. Secure. Legally compliant.

Record your employees' working hours easily and digitally with Sawayo. Digital timesheets are created in detailed overviews and archived in an audit-proof manner - with interfaces such as DATEV and SAGE. Flexibly tailored to your individual business needs.


We would like to point out that the contents of our website (including any legal contributions) are for non-binding informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice in the strict sense. The content of this information cannot and is not intended to replace individual and binding legal advice that addresses your specific situation. In this respect, all information provided is without guarantee of accuracy, completeness and timeliness.

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