Thanks to the recession, many of us are being asked to put in longer hours - often unpaid. Make sure you know your rights when it comes to overtime pay.
Am I legally entitled to be paid for working extra hours?
Not necessarily. It all depends on:
- Whether your contract says you will receive overtime pay. If so, your employer must stick to this. However, some contracts specifically state that unpaid overtime may be required.
- Whether overtime pay is an established practice at your workplace. If your contract doesn't mention it, but you or your colleagues have received overtime pay in the past, a court could decide it's an 'implied term' of employment.
- How you get paid. If you receive a fixed salary, you have no automatic legal right to extra pay for extra hours. If you are paid by the hour, you must be paid for overtime.
- Whether you're full- or part-time. Part-time employees must receive extra payments if full-time staff get them, but only for going over the hours that full-time staff work, unless your contract says otherwise.
- Whether your employer has made a 'collective agreement' with a trade union, which may set out specific details about overtime.
- Overtime rates vary between employers. Some offer 'time off in lieu' instead. If your employer mentions a higher rate for extra hours, ask them to confirm this in writing.
Does the National Minimum Wage still apply?
Yes. Your average pay rate must not fall below the National Minimum Wage (NMW). So if you work enough unpaid overtime to push your pay below the NMW, your employer should make up the shortfall.
Is there a limit to how many extra hours I can be asked to work?
Most workers over the age of 18 should not work more than 48 hours a week on average, including any overtime. This doesn't mean you can't occasionally work more hours, but the average time you spend at work over a period of 17 weeks, including overtime (whether paid or unpaid), should not exceed this limit. Night workers should not work more than eight hours in each 24-hour period, calculated as an average over 17 weeks.
Under-18s must not normally work more than eight hours a day, or 40 hours a week.
Directgov has more information about working time limits.
What if I don't want to keep to the time limits?
Over-18s can choose to opt out via a written agreement, which should just be between you and your employer - it can't be part of an agreement with the entire workforce. You have the right to cancel this at any time, giving between one week and three months' notice. Under-18s cannot opt out of the 40-hour limit.
Can my employer make me opt out?
No. If your employer tries to force you to work more than 48 hours a week, they're breaking the law. You shouldn't be treated unfairly, victimised, or put at any disadvantage for refusing to work more hours.
Can I refuse to work overtime?
This depends on whether the overtime is compulsory or voluntary. Your contract should set out all the details of any overtime you're obliged to work.
Employers should also ensure that overtime policies do not discriminate, directly or indirectly, against staff with outside responsibilities that can't be rearranged at short notice, such as childcare or caring responsibilities.
By Anne Wollenberg
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