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Working Hours and Overtime Regulations

Understand the laws governing work hours and overtime in Iceland

Standard working hours

In Iceland, the regulations for working hours are established through a combination of legislation and collective agreements. The Act on Working Hours, Work Environment and Safety sets the general framework for working hours in the country. It defines a full-time position as a maximum of 40 hours per week, spread over five 8-hour workdays. Employees cannot be required to work more than 13 hours per day.

Collective agreements negotiated between trade unions and employer organizations often provide more specific details on working hours for particular sectors or professions. For instance, a recent pilot program in Iceland trialed a reduced workweek of 35-36 hours for many public sector employees. While not yet universal, this trend highlights the potential for adjustments through collective bargaining. Agreements may also establish core working hours and provisions for flexible work arrangements.

In the absence of a specific collective agreement clause, the legal framework (40-hour workweek) takes precedence.


In Iceland, the Act on Working Hours, Work Environment and Safety defines overtime work as hours exceeding the daily limit of 8 hours or the weekly limit of 40 hours. However, these limits can be exceeded through agreement with the employee, as long as they do not violate the 13-hour daily maximum workday rule.

Compensation for overtime work varies depending on the specific circumstances and may be outlined in collective agreements. Unless a collective agreement specifies otherwise, overtime is compensated at a rate of 0.875% of the employee's regular pay for the first 162.5 overtime hours in a month. In some cases, employees may be offered time off in lieu of overtime pay, subject to agreement and collective bargaining provisions.

The Act on Working Hours, Work Environment and Safety also establishes some key requirements for overtime work. Employers generally require employee consent before assigning overtime work, except in exceptional circumstances. Additionally, employers are obligated to maintain records of employee working hours, including overtime.

Collective agreements with specific unions may provide further details on overtime rules and compensation within their respective sectors. Following these regulations ensures fair treatment of employees working overtime hours in Iceland.

Rest periods and breaks

Icelandic law prioritizes worker well-being by mandating rest periods and breaks throughout the workday and workweek.

Daily Rest Period

The Act on Working Hours, Work Environment and Safety guarantees workers a minimum of 11 consecutive hours of rest within each 24-hour period. This ensures sufficient recovery time between work shifts.

Weekly Rest Day

In addition to daily rest, Icelandic law mandates at least one day of rest per week. This day typically falls on Sundays, but exceptions can be arranged.

Breaks During the Workday

While the specific duration of breaks may vary depending on collective agreements, Icelandic law provides a minimum baseline. Workers are entitled to a break of at least 15 minutes if their daily working time exceeds 6 hours. Coffee and meal breaks are considered rest breaks under this regulation.

Collective Agreements and Break Details

Collective agreements negotiated between unions and employers often provide more specific details on breaks, including:

  • Length of breaks: Agreements may specify the duration of coffee breaks and meal breaks, which can range from 30 minutes to an hour depending on the sector.
  • Paid vs. Unpaid Breaks: Agreements often determine whether breaks are paid or unpaid. In Iceland, coffee breaks are typically paid work time.

Remember, if a collective agreement exists for your workplace, it takes precedence over the minimum legal requirements for breaks.

Night shift and weekend regulations

Iceland recognizes the potential challenges of shift work and weekend work. Here's a breakdown of the relevant regulations:

Night Work Definition

The Act on Working Hours, Work Environment and Safety in Iceland defines "night work" in two ways:

  • Night Working Time: A period of at least 7 hours that falls within the timeframe of midnight to 5:00 am.
  • Night Worker: An employee who regularly works:
    • At least 3 hours between 11:00 pm and 6:00 am.
    • A designated portion of their annual hours during night working time as outlined in a collective agreement.

Collective agreements may have further definitions of night work specific to certain sectors.

Night Work Regulations

While Icelandic law doesn't strictly prohibit night work, it emphasizes responsible scheduling and employee well-being:

  • Maximum Night Hours: Employers should strive to ensure a night worker's regular working hours don't exceed 8 hours per 24-hour period.
  • Health and Safety: Employers are obligated to consider potential health risks associated with night work and implement appropriate mitigation measures. This may include adjustments to work schedules or breaks.

Weekend Work

Icelandic law doesn't explicitly restrict weekend work, but it does guarantee workers:

  • Weekly Rest Day: All employees are entitled to at least one day of rest per week, which often falls on Sundays.

Compensation for Night and Weekend Work

Shift work, including night and weekend hours, often comes with additional compensation:

  • Shift Premiums: Collective agreements typically establish shift premiums for work outside standard hours. These premiums can vary depending on the specific day and time worked (weekdays vs. weekends, evenings vs. nights).
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