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Working Wise: Can Overtime be Mandatory?

Dear Working Wise,

I work for a company that operates round-the-clock five days a week. My employer forces us to work 12-hour shifts whenever someone is on holidays. Are employers allowed to make overtime mandatory?
Signed, Overwhelmed by Overtime

November 16, 2016

Dear Overwhelmed,

Alberta’s Employment Standards Code does not give employees the right to refuse overtime—few provinces do—but employers have some obligations to ensure they are abiding by Human Rights legislation and Occupational Health and Safety requirements. For example if an employee is unable to work overtime due to child-care issues, the employer must take that into consideration.

At times, overtime is required to meet operational needs but there are limits to how much overtime your employer can ask you to work and how much notice your employer must give you.

Most Albertans can not be asked to work more than 12 hours in a single day, unless an unforeseeable emergency occurs. The 12-hour limit generally applies to all employees in Alberta except for occupations like managers, professionals, licensed salespersons, land agents, residential and homecare caregivers, and domestic employees.

Most employees most are entitled to overtime pay for all hours worked in excess of 8 hours a day or 44 hours a week: whichever is greater. Employees and employers may agree to bank overtime hours in an overtime agreement. Otherwise, overtime hours must be paid at the rate of at least one and half times the employee’s regular wage rate.

Employees are entitled to a minimum 30 minutes of rest—paid or unpaid at the employer’s discretion—during a shift that lasts more than 5 consecutive hours. These are the minimum standards and many employers voluntarily provide staff with additional breaks or notice when overtime is expected.

The only other issue related to your overtime concern is fatigue and worker safety. Workplace fatigue is addressed by the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Code. Employers are required to conduct workplace hazard assessments, a responsibility that includes monitoring worker fatigue. In cases where a worker’s fatigue has become a worksite hazard, the employer must put controls in place to protect the worker such as allowing the fatigued worker to rest and take more time off between overtime shifts.

Are you unsatisfied with the current overtime arrangement in your workplace? Try discussing your concerns with your supervisor/manager. Brainstorm some solutions to the problem beforehand. You are much more likely to be successful if you can bring solutions that satisfy your needs and your employer’s needs—instead of just concerns.

For more information on workplace fatigue, check out the fact sheet called Fatigue and Safety at the Workplace on the Occupational Health and Safety website or call toll-free at 1-866-415-8690 (780-415-8690 in Edmonton).

For more information on overtime, hours of work, overtime agreements and occupations exempted, visit the Alberta’s Employment Standards website. You can also call and speak to an Employment Standards staff person toll-free at 1-877-427-3731 (780-427-3731 in Edmonton).

Good luck!

Photo Credit: © iStockphoto/starfotograf

Working Wise is a syndicated newspaper column prepared by the Government of Alberta to answer work-related questions from Albertans. Do you have a work-related question? You can send it to Charles Strachey (charles.strachey@gov.ab.ca), a manager with Alberta Community and Social Services.

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