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How to Manage Overtime

Many people work more hours than they are paid for.

In some cases, it is their employer who requests they stay on for a little bit or a lot longer than their normal working hours, but some workers also work longer because they feel it is expected in their workplace culture.

There is also a higher incidence of working long hours among high income earners, who see it as necessary to advance their careers, compete with colleagues, be perceived as loyal to their employer, or just simply to fit in.

Although health and safety legislation does not prescribe maximum working hours, under the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth), the maximum ordinary hours for full-time workers is 38 hours per week.

Outside of these ordinary hours, workers can be requested to work ‘reasonable’ additional hours, depending on the terms of the applicable industrial instrument or their employment contract. The worker’s health and safety is an important consideration in determining whether a request to work additional hours is reasonable.

Extended working hours adversely affect the amount of time available for sleep and social activities. As work hours increase, the individual compensates by reducing the amount of time available for sleep and other activities. When a person works more than 48 hours within a week, the increased competition between sleep and other activities results in sleep of a limited quality and length. The individual begins to accumulate a sleep debt, which causes fatigue levels to rise, and affects health and safety.

The employer needs to monitor the additional hours that are worked to ensure these do not pose a health and safety risk to the worker or others. For example, a fatigued worker could be a hazard if required to operate machinery or vehicles, work in proximity to potential hazards or supervise other staff.

Here are some tips to help manage overtime in your workplace:

  • Promote "Go Home on Time Day" in your workplace . This is an annual initiative of The Australia Institute, in partnership with beyondblue, and is an opportunity to start a conversation about work-life balance.
  • Check any relevant industrial instrument (e.g. modern award, NES) or employment contract for stipulations about requesting a worker to work additional hours or overtime.
  • Determine whether your request for the worker to work additional hours is reasonable.
  • Monitor the hours worked by your workers to ensure they are not excessive and do not pose a health and safety risk to the worker or others (e.g. risk of fatigue).
  • Develop and implement a policy which stipulates the number of hours your workers may work and ensures that any additional hours or overtime worked is with approval of supervisors or management.
  • Develop and implement procedures that manage the risks that may arise from your workers working longer hours (e.g. shift rotation, increasing the number of workers, training workers in fatigue management, implementing shift handover processes).
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