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The EU Working Time Directive: A complete guide

3 July 2024 7 min read

workplace compliance with the eu working time directive

In this blog, we’ll break down what the EU Working Time Directive is and what it involves in practical terms, including the benefits of using an automated time tracking system.

What is the EU Working Time Directive?

The European Working Time Directive (2003)

In November 2003, the EU passed the European Working Time Directive, designed with the primary aim of protecting workers’ health and safety, as well as regulating labour and working hours.

It requires EU member states to guarantee the following rights for employees:


  • a limit to weekly working hours
    • the average working time for each seven day period must not exceed 48 hours, including overtime;
    • depending on national legislation and/or collective agreements, the 48 hour average is calculated over a reference period of up to 4, 6 or 12 months
  • a rest break during working hours if the worker is on duty for longer than 6 hours
  • a minimum daily rest period
    • in every 24 hours a worker is entitled to a minimum of 11 consecutive hours of rest
  • a minimum weekly rest period
    • for each 7-day period a worker is entitled to a minimum of 24 uninterrupted hours in addition to the 11 hours’ daily rest
  • paid annual leave of at least 4 weeks per year
  • extra protection in the case of night work
    • average working hours must not exceed 8 hours per 24-hour period
    • night workers must not perform heavy or dangerous worker for longer than 8 hours in any 24-hour period
    • night workers have the right to free health assessments and, under certain circumstances, to transfer to day work.


Each EU member state is obliged to form their own national laws and regulations by following the EU Working Time Directive as guidance, and ensuring that the maximum number of working hours specified in the directive are not being exceeded.

The European Working Time Directive (2019)

In May 2019, The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that all employers within the EU must implement a time tracking system to accurately record the working hours and overtime of their employees.

The ECJ ruling was made in 2019 regarding the EU Working Time Directive

The ruling was primarily the result of a lawsuit in Spain, whereby a Spanish trade union (Comisiones Obreras) argued that the Spanish subsidiary of Deutsche Bank should be compelled to set up a time tracking system for recording the working hours of employees to ensure compliance with Spanish legislation, as well as Directive 2003/88/CE on working time, and Directive 89/391/EEC on health and safety of workers.

The ruling by the ECJ was decided on the basis that the Directive 2003/88/CE and Directive 89/391/EEC do in fact mandate that such a time tracking system be in place, to exercise compliance with maximum weekly working hours and adequate rest periods. This new legislation now stipulates that employers within EU member states are required to implement an objective, reliable and accessible system to record working hours.

The directive’s aim is to help protect workers from excessive hours, unrecorded overtime and inadequate breaks – as without a proper record of working hours and unreliable sources of evidence such as email, telephone calls and other documentation, it was previously much harder to accurately track how much time employees were actually spending working.

Implications of the new EU Working Time Directive requirements

Organisations that operate within any of the EU member states, regardless of where they are headquartered, are required to track their employees’ daily working hours using a dedicated time tracking system.

The directive calls for the implementation of an objective, reliable and accessible system that enables the duration of time worked each day by each worker to be measured.

The implementation of a system is designed to provide proof of working hours and compliance with the EU Working Time Directive regulations – for the employee so they can see if their rights are being breached, for the employer to see how they are maintaining compliance, and for relevant authorities to investigate any potential breaches of employee rights.

How such a system is implemented is up to individual EU member states to define – in particular the form it must take, with regard to particular characteristics of each sector of activity, and/or specific characteristics of certain undertakings concerning, inter alia, their size.

How to comply with the EU Working Time Directive

Organisations can choose to adopt a manual method of tracking hours worked by their employees – such as using paper or spreadsheets. However, this approach is liable to inaccuracies and is very time-consuming in itself. Adopting manual timesheets in this way at large and enterprise organisations is also an enormous challenge.

An automated time tracking system eliminates error-prone paper and spreadsheets

Instead, implementing automated time tracking software comes with a range of benefits.

It’s time-saving, more accurate and suitable for larger organisations looking to track employee working time on a large scale across multiple locations. A time tracking system like edays can be integrated with other existing HR software, such as payroll, so things like overtime pay can be handled with ease without the need for manual calculations.

How does this affect UK organisations?

Since the UK left the European Union in January 2020, it is no longer subject to the EU Working Time Directive. It has its own regulations regarding maximum weekly working hours, but organisations that are operating within the UK only are not obliged to recording employee time using a time tracking system.

However, for any UK headquartered businesses that also have employees working in other European countries, they are required to track employee working hours using a dedicated system.

Just as UK headquartered organisations are subject to leave compliance legislation of other countries where their company operates, the same applies when it comes to the EU Working Time Directive.

Benefits of using an automated time tracking system

Electing to implement an automated time tracking system has a number of benefits, especially for large and growing organisations. Benefits include:

Accuracy and efficiency

Automated systems are much faster and less prone to human error than manual methods like paper and spreadsheets. Time tracking software reduces the burden of completing timesheets and clocking in times, ensuring it’s not a cumbersome task for employees and managers.


Time tracking software can provide an organisation with overarching visibility of their whole team, regardless of whether that spans numerous departments and locations. It provides consistency in the way that everyone logs their time, as well as how it is measured and reported on.

Employee autonomy

Empowering employees to record their working time, and assign their hours to different projects or activities in their timesheets, helps them to see just how their time is being spent whilst at work.

Data and insights

The visibility that a time tracking system provides also highlights exactly where time is being spent within a business. It might shed light on departments that are struggling with heavy workloads, reasons why a project has been delayed, how much overtime is worked throughout the year, or which admin tasks are taking up a significant chunk of someone’s day. This people data provides organisations with a greater understanding of their productivity levels.


An automated time tracking system like edays can be integrated with an organisation’s existing HR tech stack, so things like overtime and sickness absence can be synced with payroll systems for added accuracy and efficiency.


A time tracking solutions helps organisations to be compliant with the EU Working Time Directive and other labour laws, in whichever country they are operating in.

Become EU Working Time Directive compliant with edays’ Time Tracking

Become EU Working Time Directive compliant with edays’ Time Tracking

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Georgina at edays
July 3, 2024

Georgina Mackintosh is an accomplished copywriter and marketing professional with a background that spans several industries. Her writing focuses on HR topics such as employee wellbeing, engagement and experience - as well as absence management best practice, how-to guides and news from the HR sector.