The Top Five Questions About Overtime

Chances are if you’re working you will have been asked by your employer to work overtime. A lot of us can do overtime without knowing the laws behind it, but we may still have questions. This article will address five of the most common questions about working overtime in the UK.

1. What is overtime?

2. Is overtime legal?

3. Does it always have to be paid?

4. What is unpaid overtime?

5. Can you be made to do overtime?

What is overtime?

Overtime is the time you work over and above your contracted hours. For example, if you are contracted to work 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday (40 hours) and you stay late to cover for someone who hasn’t arrived for their shift or to get a project finished, this extra time working is classed as overtime.

Is overtime legal?

Yes, overtime is legal and a lot of us do it.

However, there are rules regarding how much overtime you can do. Legally, you should not work more than 48 hours in a week. If your overtime means you are working more than 48 hours a week then it could be illegal. There is a way around this, a written agreement signed by both the employer and employee; if you and your employer sign an agreement saying you are happy to work over 48 hours a week then this is legal.

Does it always have to be paid?


Each employer has their own policy regarding pay for overtime; you should check your contract or your employer’s terms of business to find out yours.

What is unpaid overtime?

Unpaid overtime is the overtime that you work but do not get paid for. You are effectively working for free when you do unpaid overtime.

Unpaid overtime is perfectly legal as long as your average pay for the total hours you work does not fall below the national minimum wage (£7.20 in the UK). If you end up doing so many hours that your average wage drops below £7.20per hour then the amount of overtime you are doing becomes illegal.

Example: If you work 40 hours a week and earn £328.00 each week your hourly rate works out at £8.20 per hour.

This means you can work 45.5 hours per week legally and 5.5 of those can be unpaid overtime.

If you worked 46 or more hours per week and still only made £328.00 per week then you would be doing an illegal amount of overtime as you would be earning £7.13 per hour, or less depending on the amount of overtime you worked.

Can you be made to do overtime?

You can be asked to do overtime, paid or unpaid.

You should refer to your contract if you are unsure what your employer can or cannot ‘make’ you do. Each employer has different policies and you may have already agreed, by signing the contract, to do overtime if asked. In that situation, refusing to do so could be seen as a breach of contract or misconduct.

However, if your contract is silent on overtime and you are asked to do some and refuse, you should not be sacked, especially if what is being asked is unreasonable. However, you can be noted as being uncooperative by your employer, which could work against you if a redundancy situation arises.

It is important to find the right balance of being a good, helpful employee and not having your employer take advantage of you.

In conclusion, you should now have a clearer understanding of what overtime is and what is legal and illegal regarding the amount you can work.