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It’s 5 p.m. – go home or you’re fired

What to do with employees who work too long?

By Andrew Treash (Guest blogger)

Employers are often faced with worker tardiness and absenteeism — maybe an illness or family issue is causing an employee to be late or miss work, or maybe the employee is just being delinquent. Regardless, employers have to be prepared to deal with it.

What you don’t often hear about is an employee getting disciplined for working late. Why would an employer want to do that? Isn’t it laudable for an employee to work late when the demands of the job dictate it? Aren’t organizations always looking to increase the amount of discretionary effort employees put in? Isn’t this a sign of high engagement?

One problem, as illustrated by several high-profile class action lawsuits, is this can result in employees working overtime without getting paid. As you might expect, the law frowns upon unpaid labour. Generally speaking, employers can’t force people to work overtime without paying them for it, but they’re actually not even supposed to allow them to.

Unpaid overtime carries huge risks for employers. While an employee may be willing to forego some overtime pay in exchange for a good performance review or advancement opportunities, her feelings may change if the things don’t go as planned and the employment relationship sours. If a bunch of employees in the same situation start talking, you have the makings of a class action lawsuit or a costly employment standards investigation. And apart from possible legal ramifications, there are obvious risks of burnout for employees who work too long.

Of course, not all employees are entitled to overtime pay. Employees doing managerial and supervising work, for example, are generally exempt from overtime pay requirements under Canadian employment standards legislation (although they may be entitled to it under the terms of a contract or policy). But contrary to a commonly-held misconception, salaried employees are indeed eligible for overtime. Whether a person is paid a salary, paid hourly, on commission or some other basis makes no difference to overtime eligibility.

Like most white-collar employees, I occasionally find myself facing a deadline without enough standard work hours left to meet it. That means I sometimes have to work on evenings or weekends. Like most people, I would rather do a good job than take shortcuts and sacrifice on quality.  

But beyond employees like me who sometimes put in a little extra time to get an urgent job done, there are those who consistently work extra long hours. They may be workaholics, they may want to give the impression they’re working harder than everyone else, or maybe the demands of their job really do require extra hours. Added to that, they may be under the impression (rightly or not) they need to work unpaid overtime to get ahead at their workplace.

So if employers can’t allow employees to work overtime without getting paid, how do you stop them? It seems to defy common sense, but would you resort to a discipline policy if necessary? And if people are working at home or on mobile devices away from the office, how do you even know it’s going on?

If you noticed that you had a workplace culture where unpaid overtime was encouraged, expected or even just allowed, how would you go about dealing with it?

Andrew Treash is a guest blogger for the HR Policies & Practices blog and an HR and compliance writer for Consult Carswell. He can be reached at andrew.treash@thomsonreuters.com or visit www.consultcarswell.com for more information.

Brian Kreissl

Brian Kreissl is the product development manager for Thomson Reuters Legal Canada's human resources, OH&S, payroll and records retention products and solutions.
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