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Variable working hours

The hours of an employee with variable working hours vary between the minimum and maximum agreed in the employment contract, or the employee has agreed to work for the employer when called separately. An example of a variable hours employment contract is a zero-hour contract, where the minimum working time is set at zero hours a week, meaning that the employer is not obligated to offer work.  

When variable working hours are used, the employer must provide the employee with a description of the situations in which and to what extent the employer requires labour, if the hours have been agreed to be variable at the employer’s initiative. In addition, as of 1 August 2022, the employer must estimate the days and times of the week on which the employee’s work input is most likely to be needed. The estimate can be based on business hours, for example, if a more accurate determination is not possible. If the employee is offered shifts at other times, the employee is not required to accept these shifts without their consent.  

If the shift of an employee with variable working hours is cancelled less than 48 hours before the start of the shift, the employer must pay reasonable compensation to the employee for cancelling the shift, unless the employee is entitled to pay or compensation based on other legislation, collective agreement or the binding nature of the agreed shift.  

Variable working hours may not be agreed at the employer’s initiative if the need for labour is in reality fixed. For example, if the employee continuously works a fixed 30-hour week, the variable working hours clause of the employment contract is invalid. The variable working hours condition is lawful if the employee’s hours vary according to labour needs, for example, between 20 and 40 hours a week.   If the initiative for variable working hours comes from the employee, the requirements are not the same as when agreeing on variable working hours at the employer’s initiative. However, the initiative must genuinely come from the employee, so it is advisable to include the reason for varying working hours in the employment contract (such as full-time studies) for the legal protection of both parties.

Obligation to review the working hours condition 

Once a year (12 months), the employer must review whether the working hours condition has been met. The employee must be informed of the date of the review and, at the request of the employee or their representative, a written report of the result of the review and the grounds for the results must be presented. The employer’s obligation to review is automatic and does not require an employee’s request, as was the case under the previous law (before 1 August 2022). If the actual hours worked and the employer’s need for labour indicate that the minimum working hours entered in the employment contract is too low, the employer must offer the employee an agreement to change the working hours condition to correspond to the result of the review within one month of the review. The employee has the right to refuse the new hours, in which case the working hours remain unchanged.  

An increase in the total number of hours worked during the year does not mean an obligation to offer a new minimum working hours if the hours have genuinely varied as agreed in the employment contract. Periods of absence due to the employee’s annual holidays, family leave, illness or other reasons are not taken into account when reviewing the fulfilment of the working hours condition. On the other hand, actual working hours may increase from the actual need for labour for exceptional reasons due to, for example, the absences of other employees. Because of this, in addition to actual working hours, the review also looks at the employer’s permanent need for labour. If the employer is unable to offer work according to actual working hours because the need for labour has not actually increased, there is no need to offer new minimum working hours.