Covid-19: Temporary changes to maximum working hours for certain industries

Following an amendment of the Working Time Act as of March 28, 2020, the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs issued a Working Hours Ordinance, which from April 10, 2020 onwards allows exceptions to the provisions of the Working Hours Act only for certain activities and only for a limited period until  June 30, 2020. Exceptions from the maximum working hours, the minimum rest periods and the general ban on employment on Sundays and public holidays are regulated. Due to the COVID-19 epidemic, the exceptions must be necessary to maintain public safety and order, the health system and nursing care, services of general interest or to provide the population with essential goods.

More specifically, the following exceptions are allowed:

  • The working time of employees can be extended to up to twelve hours per working day, unless the extension can be avoided by anticipatory organisational measures, including necessary scheduling of working time, by hiring or other personnel management measures.  As is customary in the Working Hours Act, a compensation to eight hours per working day (48 hours per week) must be made within six months.
  • The daily rest period may be reduced by up to two hours, whereby there must be a minimum rest period of nine hours. Any reduction in the rest period must be compensated within four weeks. Where possible, compensation shall be provided in the form of days off, otherwise by extending other rest periods to at least 13 hours each.
  • Employees may also be employed on Sundays and public holidays, provided that the work cannot be carried out on working days. The replacement rest day for Sunday employment may be granted within eight weeks, but must be granted no later than the expiry of the Regulation on July 31, 2020.
  • The working time may not exceed 60 hours per week. Only in urgent exceptional cases may the weekly working time be extended beyond 60 hours, unless the extension can be avoided by anticipatory organisational measures, including necessary scheduling of working time, by hiring or other personnel management measures.

The potential exemptions from the Regulation apply only to certain activities defined in the Regulation. These are activities:

  1. in the manufacture, packaging including filling, commissioning, delivery to companies, loading and unloading and placing in storage of
    • everyday consumer goods,
    • drugs, medical devices and other goods customary in pharmacies as well as aids,
    • products used for containment, control and management of the COVID-19 epidemic,
    • substances, materials, containers and packaging materials necessary for the manufacture and transport of the goods, agents and products referred to above,
  2. in medical treatment and in the care, nursing and support of persons, including assistance and support activities,
  3. for emergency and rescue services, the fire brigade and civil defence,
  4. to maintain public safety and order and the functioning of courts and authorities,
  5. in the energy and water supply companies and in waste and sewage disposal companies,
  6. in agriculture and animal husbandry, and in facilities for the treatment and care of animals,
  7. to secure the transport of money and valuables and the guarding of operational facilities,
  8. to maintain the functionality of data networks and computer systems,
  9. in pharmacies and medical supply stores within the authorised shop opening hours and during necessary preparatory and follow-up work as well as in the case of collection and delivery services of pharmacies and medical supply stores.

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