How many hours per week can your employer expect or require you to work? How many hours per day? These are questions anyone who works long hours will inevitably ask themselves. Fortunately, work hours are indeed regulated in Ontario and there are maximum amounts of hours per week and per day that an employee can be required to work. These are set out by the Ontario Employment Standards Act (“ESA”).
Maximum Daily and Weekly Limits
By default, the maximum amount of hours an employee can be required to work in a single day is 8 hours. Alternatively, the employer can require their employees to work longer than 8 hours if the employer has an “established regular workday” exceeding 8 hours. The established regular workday, however, cannot exceed 13 hours. Therefore, the maximum amount of hours an employee can be required to work in a day is between 8 and 13 hours.
Generally, the maximum amount of hours an employer can require their employees to work in a single week is 48 hours. This can be exceeded by agreement between the employer and employee; however, this employment contract does not relieve the employer of their obligation to provide overtime pay.
Hours Free From Work
The ESA not only sets out how long an employer can require their employee to work, but also how long an employee is entitled to be away from work. Employees are entitled to 11 consecutive hours away from work each day. This rule cannot be altered by agreement. However, it does not apply to employees who are “on call”.
Between shifts, employees are entitled to at least 8 hours off work. In order to be eligible, the two separate shifts must combine for a duration exceeding 13 hours. For example, if the employee worked only 3 hours the first shift, they are not entitled to 8 hours off before their next shift if the next shift is only 8 hours (11 hours total).
Each week, an employee is entitled to either 24 consecutive hours off work or, alternatively, 48 consecutive hours off work in every period of 2 consecutive work weeks.
Importantly, the above rules do not apply in certain exceptional circumstances. These include emergencies, unforeseen interruptions to the delivery of essential public services, and unforeseen interruptions to seasonal operations, among others.
Employees are entitled by law to a 30-minute eating period each day. An employee cannot work more than 5 hours without having an eating period. Notably, eating periods are not considered hours of work and do not count towards overtime pay. Employers are not required to provide their employees with “coffee breaks” beyond this 30-minute eating period.
The ESA does not provide for minimum hours of work. Theoretically, an employer could require their employee to work 5 minutes each day and not be violating the ESA. However, if an employee regularly works more than 3 hours each day and is subsequently required to come to work for a period of less than 3 hours, the employer is then obligated to pay the employee as though they had worked 3 hours. This is the “three hour rule”.
ESA is Not Always Applicable
Although the above rules apply to the vast majority of employees, there are certain exemptions. Some industries and jobs are not covered by the ESA, and therefore do not have the benefit of the above rules. Among these exemptions are: police officers, co-op students, banks, politicians, judges, and employees governed by federal law (i.e., Canada Labour Code), among others.