Is there a maximum number of permissible work hours?

Q: I’m trying to find out whether there is a maximum number of hours a worker can work in any given week — taking into account safety and fatigue issues; and, if so, what are they?

A: When there may be a prospect of ‘unreasonable hours’ being imposed on an employee, the employer should discuss that issue with the employee and address the factors noted below under National Employment Standards.


The maximum hours provided under the NES must not exceed 38 hours in a week. However, this provision is subject to the rule that an employer may require an employee to work reasonable additional hours in the week.

When determining whether additional hours are reasonable, the following factors are to be considered:

  • any risk to employee health and safety from working the additional hours
  • the employee’s personal circumstances, including family responsibilities
  • the needs of the workplace or enterprise in which the employee is employed
  • whether the employee is entitled to receive overtime payments, penalty rates, or other compensation for working additional hours
  • notice (if any) given by the employer of any request or requirement to work the additional hours
  • the notice (if any) given by the employee of his or her intention to refuse to work the additional hours
  • any other relevant matter.

The hours of work an employee works in a week are taken to include any authorised hours of leave, or absence, whether paid or unpaid, that the employee takes in the week.


If there is a risk that the hours worked by employees create a danger or potential danger to health and safety, a risk assessment should be conducted.

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