Understanding employee working hours

Working hours regulations applies to specific employees

According to the Basic Conditions of Employment (BCEA) Amendment Act 2014, working hours regulations apply to all  employees who fall within the earnings threshold of R205 433.30 (as per determination in Government Notice No. 531 of 1 July 2014). If an employee earns more than this amount (per annum), then they are not covered by the clauses relating to working hours. Employees who work less than 24 hours (per month) are also not covered by the clauses relating to working hours.

General working hours

When setting your employees’ working hours, the BCEA states that an employer should take certain key factors into account. Specifically, whilst several factors need to be considered, employees’ health and safety conditions are of primary importance.

Additionally, the Department of Labour’s Code Of Good Practice On The Arrangement Of Working Time is very helpful.

As all concerned and caring employers should be, it’s always advisable to take due recognition of employees’ family responsibilities.

The BCEA’s interpretation of “day” means a period of 24 hours, measured from the time the employee normally commences. The term “daily” has corresponding meaning. Therefore, an employee’s ordinary hours of work will be:

  • not more than 45 hours a week
  • not more than 9 hours in a day if employee works 5 days or less
  • not more than 8 hours in a day for employees working more than 5 days a week

Upon agreement with the employee, these hours may be extended by:

  • 15 minutes a day;
  • but not more than 60 minutes in a week

This enables an employee whose duty it is to serve the public to continue performing those duties after the completion of ordinary hours of work.

Calculating ordinary working hours

An employee works from 8am to 5pm (Monday to Friday) which includes a 1 hour lunch-break.

8am to 5pm amounts to a total of 9 hours. However, when deducting the 1 hour lunch-break, 8 hours is the employee’s net working hours per day. Multiplied by 5 (days of work per week: Monday to Friday), in this case, the employee is set to work a 40-hour work week.

However, some exceptions apply

  • an employee’s working hours must be agreed upon (in writing);
  • an employer may not require or permit an employee to to work more than 12 hours on any day up to 12 hours a day (including the meal interval) without paying overtime;
  • but not more than 45 hours in any week
  • not more than 6 days a week


This is a critical issue and needs to be built into your contract of employment as well as the way you calculate (and process payments) for working hours. Ordinarily, a lunch-break is not part of of an employee’s working hours. Therefore:

  • after 5 continuous hours of work, an employee must be sent on his/her lunch-break;
  • the lunch-break must last for (at least) one full hour;
  • during the lunch-break, the employee is not to perform any work, unless his/her duties cannot be left unattended or performed by another employee;
  • the employee should be paid if he/she is required to work during a lunch-break (or any part of the lunch break exceeding 75 minutes) — If the employee lives on the premises where his/her duties are performed, in which case the rule does not apply.

You may agree, as long as its in writing, to reduce an employee’s lunch-break to 30 minutes.

Lastly, should an employee work for less than 6 hours per day, then the mandatory lunch-break may be dispensed with.

Rest periods

All employees must be allowed to rest. Consequently, the following rules apply:

  • In-between periods of work, a daily rest period of at least 12 hours is mandatory. This 12-hour period of rest may be reduced to only 10-hours, if the employee lives on the premises where he/she perform his/her work duties, provided that he/she receives a lunch-break of at least 3 hours;
  • a weekend rest period must be at least 36 hours long (and to include a Sunday);
  • alternatively, an employee may be afforded a rest period of at least 60 hours (once on every two week cycle).
  • Lastly, an employer may— for any given week—reduce a rest period by up to 8 hours, if they extend following week’s rest period by the exact same time in which the prior week’s rest period was reduced.

Working at night

Night work implies that an employee will be working after 6pm and before 6am the next day. An employer may only compel and employee to work at night, if:

  • The employee agrees to it;
  • A shift allowance is paid or a reduction in working hours is granted;
  • Transportation is made available between an employee’s place of work and his/her workplace at the commencement and conclusion of the employee’s shift.

However, certain special provisions apply if an employee works on a regular (at least 5 times a month or 50 times a year) basis, after 23:00 and before 06:00 then

  • Inform the employee (orally or in writing) of any safety hazards that the employee may face whilst performing his/her duties.
  • Employee has a right to undergo a medical examination at the employer’s expense before the employee starts a particular set of duties. At appropriate intervals, whilst continuing to perform the same or similar set of duties, an employee has the right to undergo further follow-up medical examinations.
  • If the employee suffers from any health condition relating to the night work, they should be transferred to a suitable day position as soon as it practically possible for the employer to do so.


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