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Hours of Work (Ontario Laws)

What are the hours of work in Ontario?

Although the standard 9-5 hours of work is ubiquitous, it wasn’t always this way. Up until the 19th century, hours of work were hazardously long. In 1884, Ontario made laws to address these concerns, and in 2020, the average workday looks a lot different than our primitive past.

Today, the Ontario Employment Standards Act (our guide here) sets out the obligations of employers and the rights of employees concerning the workplace, including rights regarding hours of work.  

The hours of work provisions in the Ontario Employment Standards Act draws a balance which allows employers to arrange work schedules to suit their needs while still ensuring that employees are not overworked and that they receive hours free from work in between shifts.

Hours of work rules (Ontario)

Rules regarding maximum workdays and work weeks

Pursuant to the Employment Standards Act, the following rules apply to hours in a day and hours in a week in Ontario:

  • the number of hours an employee can be required to work is limited to the employer’s ‘established regular workday’ or to 8 hours where no regular workday is established.
    • A regular workday may be established that is up to 13 hours long.
  • The number of hours an employee will be required to work per week is limited to 48.

Thus, the maximum hours allowed to work in Ontario are 13 hours per day and 48 hours per week. However, as noted below, an employee and employer can agree in writing to exceed the maximum amount of hours per day/week in Ontario.

Minimum hours of work in Ontario?

Generally, there are no rules about the minimum hours of work in Ontario. The Employment Standards Act only protects against maximum hours. An employer can force you to work one minute a day if it so chooses. However, there is a special rule about being paid for 3 hours if you are required to come into work (see below the “Three Hour Rule“.) and you usually work three hours or more.

Are employers allowed to change hours of work?

The Employment Standards Act does not prohibit an employer from adjusting the regular workday whenever it wants to. That is, so far as the Employment Standards Act is concerned, an employer is free to make a different regular workday than what was previously made or to require workers come in at different times or leave at different times. However, it could be a constructive dismissal under the common law if an employee’s hours are changed drastically.

Can my employer cut my hours without notice Ontario? Nothing in the Employment Standards Act deals with cutting hours without notice. But, a change in hours can be a constructive dismissal triggering a termination under the Employment Standards Act.

Rules about exceeding Limits on Hours of Work

An employer and an employee can agree in writing (i.e. a contract) to exceed the daily limits on the hours of work as noted above to work up to a specified number of hours in a workweek, if:

An agreement between an employer and employee to exceed the limits on hours of work can be cancelled by the employee by providing the employer with 2 weeks’ written notice or by the employer by providing ‘reasonable notice’.

Accordingly, there is no limit on the hours of work an employee could potentially work per day in Ontario except that an employee must be paid overtime pay where applicable (i.e. above 44 hours) and that the employee must be given minimum breaks, as described below.

Hours Free from Work

An employer must provide an employee with a certain number of hours free from work:

  • Daily Rest Periods: At least 11 hours each day, unless the employee is “on-call”;
  • Time off between Shifts: At least 8 hours between shifts unless the total time on successive shifts does not exceed 13 hours; and
  • Weekly or Bi-Weekly Rest Periods: At least 24 consecutive hours in every workweek or at least 48 hours in 2 consecutive workweeks.

There are exceptions to hours free from work rules in Ontario however. The above hours free from work rules do not apply:

  • in an emergency (i.e. work that is necessary to avoid serious interference with the employer’s operations);
  • in unforeseen circumstances to ensure the continued delivery of essential public services;
  • If something unforeseen occurs, to ensure that continuous processes or seasonal operations are not interrupted (this is a catchall that sort of minimizes the effect of the whole rule).
  • to carry out urgent repair work on the employer’s equipment.

Unlike rules about daily hours of work, the daily hours free from work rules (i.e. rest) requirements cannot be altered by a written contract between an employer and an employee.

How many days in a row can you work in Ontario? As per the above, you can work 14 days in a row before you must be given a 48-hour break.

What are the maximum hours allowed to work in Ontario? As per the above, the maximum hours you can work in Ontario are 16 hours, but there are exceptions in emergencies and unforeseen circumstances.

Eating Periods

Employers must provide an eating period (i.e. lunch break) of at least 30 minutes per day. In addition, an employer must provide a lunch break no later than after 5 consecutive hours of work.

An employer is free to give an employee two eating periods of 15 minutes so long as that, in total, an employee gets 30 minutes each five hours to eat without working.

An employer is not required to give smoke or coffee breaks or other five minutes breaks. The only break that is required is a 30 minutes unpaid break after 5 hours of work.

The Employment Standards Act does not require that lunch breaks be paid. In that effect, it is legal for unpaid lunches in Ontario.

How many breaks in an 8-hour shift in Ontario? Under the Employment Standards Act, in Ontario, an employee is entitled to one 30 minute break every 8-hour shift. This is because an employer does not need to provide a break until every fifth hour.

Three-Hour Rule

If an employee who usually works 3 hours or more every day and is required to come into work on any given day for less than 3 hours, he or she must still be paid for 3 hours at minimum. Essentially, in other words, the Three-Hour Rule provides that, under certain circumstances, employees must be paid at least three hours’ pay at the employee’s regular rate of pay, even though the employee worked less than three hours.

In order for the Three-Hour Rule to apply:

  • The employee regularly works more than three hours per day
  • The employee is required to present himself or herself for work
  • The employee does work less than three hours, despite being available to work longer (in order for the Three-Hour Rule to apply, the employee must be available to work for more than three hours. Therefore, if the employee presents him or herself for work and leaves early, for example, due to illness, the employee cannot seek wages for three hours of work).

Are there minimum hours of work in Ontario? Other than the above-noted Three-Hour rule, there are no minimum hours of work in Ontario. There are no rules about part-time hours or full-time hours either. An employer is free to set hours as they please. The only issue for minimum hours of work is whether an employee will accept it. To be clear, an employee doesn’t have to give 40 hours of work to full-time employees or 10 hours to part-time employees etc. In fact, the concept of “full time” or “part-time” isn’t even an actual legal issue – these terms have no special legal status or rules. The only rules that apply to hours of work are the provisions in the Employment Standards Act described herein and the terms and conditions in someone’s employment contract.

Thus, the answer to many how hours per week is part-time is that there is no set amount of hours for part-time. Nonetheless, employers must pay employees at least three hours worth of pay every time an employee comes into work. In that regard, you could say that part-time hours are anywhere between 3 and 8 hours per day for some amount of days in a week that is less than the normal 5-day workday. For example, working only 3 days a week for 8 hours each workday is “part-time” because “full time” is traditionally 8 hours a day, 5 days a week.

Overtime Pay

Overtime pay is money paid to an employee to compensate him or her for the additional time he or she must work when extra work is required. It also provides both employees and employers with the ability to negotiate more flexible work schedules and pay. The overtime rule is also intended to discourage employers from requiring overtime because it imposes an economic cost on them when overtime is required.

Pursuant to the Employment Standards Act, the general rule is that overtime pay must be paid for all hours worked in excess of 44 hours per week at the rate of at least 1.5 times the regular rate of pay.

Click here to read more about unpaid overtime.

Interesting Work Hour Numbers

Typically there are 2000 working hours in a year. An employee would work 2000 hours per year if she had a traditional 9-5, Monday to Friday, with two weeks vacation each year.

There are 8760 hours in a year. Therefore, someone with a traditional 9-5, Monday to Friday, with two weeks vacation each year works about 1/4 of their year.

Most people sleep about 8 hours per night. Accordingly, most people are awake for 16 hours per day. This means that most people spend 1/2 of each workday (i.e. Monday to Friday) working!

On average, people now spend approximately 13 years and two months of their lives at work. The average worker spends nearly a quarter of their time on the job during a typical 50-year stint of employment.