Hours of work and working overtime

Myth or fact?

If an employee works more than 40 hours per week, they're entitled to overtime wages.
  • Myth
  • Fact

You've just started a new job. Your boss says you get 15 minutes for lunch. Then they ask you to stay late. You end up working 11 hours, and your boss says it’s company policy not to pay overtime wages. You wonder: Is all of this legal? Learn your rights when it comes to hours of work and working overtime.  

What you should know

Whether employment standards law applies to you

A key factor affecting your rights around hours of work and overtime is whether you’re covered by the Employment Standards Act. This is the main law protecting workers in BC. It sets out rules for hours of work and overtime

This law applies to “employees” — which covers most but not all workers in the province. For example, independent contractors aren’t covered by it. Nor are people working in certain licensed professions. For more, see our guidance on who’s covered by BC’s employment standards law.

As well, the parts of this law dealing with hours of work and overtime don't apply to certain other types of workers, such as teachers, fire fighters, live-in home support workers, and university instructors. 

Managers aren't eligible for overtime pay

In the Employment Standards Act, the parts dealing with hours of work and overtime don't apply to managers. As a result, managers aren’t eligible for overtime pay. Some employers try to use this rule to avoid having to pay overtime. Just because your employer calls you a “manager” doesn’t mean you’re automatically ineligible for overtime pay. It’s the nature of your job that makes you a manager, not your job title.

What your employment contract says

A second factor that comes into play is your employment contract. It will typically set out your regular hours of work. It may also spell out the framework around overtime.

(Note there’s always an employment contract between a worker and an employer, even if nothing is in writing.)

Your contract rights may be greater than what employment standards law provides for. But — if you’re covered by employment standards law — whatever your contract says about hours of work and overtime, it can’t be any less than the minimum entitlements under the law.  

Your entitlement to overtime wages

“I was routinely working 10 or 11 hours per day. My boss continued paying me at my regular wage. Then I spoke with a colleague who told me I should be getting overtime pay. I brought it up with my boss. He agreed to pay me the overtime wages I’d earned. Now I have more of an incentive to work later hours if I need to.”

– Georgia, Kelowna

Your employment contract may set out the framework around overtime hours and pay. Or it may say nothing about overtime. Either way, if you’re covered under BC’s employment standards law, your entitlement to overtime can’t be any less than what that law requires. 

Here’s how the overtime rules work under employment standards law. 

Employees are entitled to overtime wages if they work more than eight hours per day or 40 hours per week. (There is one exception: if they agree to average their hours. This is explained below, under “Common questions.”)

Daily overtime

First, more on how daily overtime works. After you’ve worked eight hours in a day, your employer must pay you time-and-a-half — that is, one-and-a-half times your regular wage — for the next four hours worked. 

For example, say your wage is $16 per hour and you work 10 hours in one day. You receive your regular wage for the first eight hours. But for the additional two hours, you’re paid $24 per hour.

After working 12 hours in a day, your employer must pay you double your regular wage for any additional hours worked. 

Continuing the example above, say you work 14 hours in one day. You receive your regular wage for the first eight hours. For the next four hours, you’re owed $24 per hour. For the two hours after that it’s $32 per hour. 

The rules for daily overtime apply even if you work less than 40 hours during the week.

Weekly overtime

If you work more than 40 hours in a week, your employer must pay you time-and-a-half after 40 hours. However, only the first eight hours you work each day is counted towards the weekly total. (The daily overtime is calculated separately.) 

For example, say you work eight hours each day, Monday to Friday. On Saturday, you work three more hours. Your weekly total is 43 hours. You receive your regular wage ($16 per hour) for the first 40 hours. For the extra three hours, you earn $24 per hour. 

The rules for weekly overtime apply even if you work less than eight hours each day.

Keep track of your overtime hours

Conflicts between the records of an employer and the claims of a worker regarding overtime hours worked are a common workplace problem. It’s a good idea to keep track of the hours you work, including overtime. A good way to do this is to send yourself an email at the end of every week with the hours you worked that week. That way you can compare your record to what your pay stub says.

You can ask to bank your overtime wages

If you’re covered by BC’s employment standards law, you can ask your employer to create a time bank for your overtime wages.

Here’s how the time banking rules work. If you want a time bank, you can make a written request to your employer. They don’t have to say yes. They can turn down your request and instead opt to pay your overtime wages in the usual way. 

(To be clear: A time bank can only be created at your request. Your employer can’t require you to bank your overtime.)

If you have a time bank

If you and your employer agree to create a time bank, then you can ask your employer (at any time) to:

  • pay you all or part of the overtime wages you have stored in the bank, or

  • use the stored overtime wages to take time off with pay (at a time agreed between you and your employer), or

  • close the time bank and have all of the stored overtime wages paid to you.

If you use stored overtime wages to take time off, you are entitled to time off at the same rate as your overtime pay. For example, if you worked one hour of overtime and store it in your overtime bank, you are entitled to 1.5 hours of paid time off. 

Closing your time bank

You can ask your employer to close your time bank at any time. Your employer can also close your time bank, but they must give you one month’s written notice. If they close your time bank, your employer must do one of the following within six months:

  • pay you all of the overtime wages credited to the time bank,

  • allow you to use the credited wages to take time off with pay, or

  • some combination of the above two options.

Your entitlement to meal and coffee breaks

Under BC’s employment standards law, an employer must make sure an employee doesn’t work more than five consecutive hours without a meal break. Each meal break must be at least half an hour long. Here is the meal breaks rule.

Your employer doesn't need to pay you for a meal break. However, if you’re asked to work — or be available to work — during a meal break, your employer must count this as time worked and pay you for it. 

Your employer isn’t required to give you any additional breaks (for example, coffee breaks). But if you are given coffee breaks, you must be paid for that time. The employer can determine the length of the break. 

Your entitlement to minimum daily hours

If you’re covered under BC’s employment standards law, and you report for work, your employer must pay you for at least two hours at your regular wage even if you work less than that. If you report for work and you’re scheduled to work for more than eight hours, your employer must pay you for at least four hours. Here’s the “minimum daily hours” rule.

If your work stops for a reason beyond your employer’s control (for example, bad weather conditions) your employer must pay you for two hours or actual time worked, whichever is greater. 

You’re only entitled to be paid for time actually worked, even if it was less than two hours, if:

  • you are unfit to work, or

  • you violate the general health and safety rules of the workplace.

Your entitlement to have time free from work

If you’re covered under BC’s employment standards law, your employer must give you at least 32 consecutive hours free from work each week. If you work during this period, you must be paid one-and-a-half times your regular wage for the hours worked. (Here’s the “hours free from work” rule.)

If you work seven days a week, your employer must likewise pay you time-and-a-half for one of those days. This is the case even if you work fewer than 40 hours throughout the week. Your employer can choose to pay you time-and-a-half on the day you worked the fewest hours.

You’re also entitled to have eight hours off between shifts, unless you’re required to work due to an emergency.

You mustn't be required to work excessive hours

Your employer must not require you to work — directly or indirectly — ”excessive” hours, or hours that are detrimental to your health or safety. Let your employer know if the amount you’re working is having negative effects on your health. 

Work out problems

Step 1. Discuss the situation with your employer

If you don’t think you’ve been treated fairly in terms of your work hours or overtime, raise the issue with your employer. Bring any paperwork that supports your position — for example, any records you kept of your hours, your pay stub, and your employment contract

Tips for having a conversation with your employer

Approaching your boss can be stressful. We offer tips for talking with your employer

Step 2. Write to your employer

If discussing the issue with your employer doesn’t work, consider putting your request in writing. Explain your concerns and your interest in working together to find a solution. You could say something like:

“Under the BC Employment Standards Act, employees are entitled to overtime pay if they work more than eight hours in a day or 40 hours in a week. Last month I worked three 11-hour days that I wasn’t paid overtime for. I appreciate that business needs can occasionally require us to put in extra time. But I believe the overtime rules apply. [Modify to fit your situation.] I’d like to meet with you to explore solutions to this issue as soon as possible.”

We provide tips for writing a letter to your employer

Keep a copy of the letter for your files. Having a written record will be useful if you need to take additional steps.

Step 3. Make an employment standards complaint

If you aren’t able to resolve things directly with your employer, you can make a formal complaint. If you’re covered by BC employment standards law, you can make a complaint to the Employment Standards Branch. This government office helps workers and employers resolve problems. For what’s involved, see our guidance on making an employment standards complaint.

Common questions

Is an employer legally required to provide coffee breaks?

No. But if you are given coffee breaks, you must be paid for that time. The employer can determine the length of the break. 

Does my employer have to pay me overtime if I work on the weekend?

It depends. Your employment contract may set out the framework around overtime. It may spell out how working on the weekend is treated. If it doesn’t, and if you’re covered under BC’s employment standards law, you’re entitled to overtime if you work more hours than the daily or weekly threshold. See the “What you should know” section, above.

Is time spent getting to and from a worksite considered to be work?

Normally, no. The trip from home to work is considered to be a commute. In other words, no work is done regardless of who supplies the vehicle. 

The trip becomes work if you’re providing a service to your employer. For example, if you’re bringing tools or equipment that your employer provided to the worksite. The trip may also be work if you’re picking up other workers and bringing them to the worksite. 

What are the rules around split shifts?

Under BC’s employment standards law, an employer must ensure that an employee working a split shift completes the shift within 12 hours of starting work. For example, if someone works a 9 am to 1 pm first part of their shift, and the second part starts at 5pm, it must finish by 9 pm (12 hours from when they started work). Here’s the “split shifts” rule.

What is an averaging agreement?

To allow some flexibility in the workplace, BC’s employment standards law allows an employer and a worker to make an averaging agreement. Under this law, they can agree to average the worker’s hours over a period of one to four weeks, avoiding overtime pay that would otherwise be owed.

Under an averaging agreement, a worker can be scheduled to work more than 40 hours in a particular week or more than 8 hours on a particular day. However, over the period of the agreement, the hours scheduled must not average more than 40 hours per week.

The purpose of an averaging agreement is to minimize the amount of overtime pay a worker is legally entitled to. You are not required to agree to an averaging agreement. However, your employer can decline to schedule you for overtime hours if you do not enter into the agreement.  

There are requirements for a valid averaging agreement

To be valid, an averaging agreement must be in writing and specify:

  • the number of weeks (one to four) over which hours will be averaged

  • the work schedule for each day covered by the agreement

  • the number of times the agreement can be repeated

  • a start and end date for the agreement

You and your employer must sign the agreement before the start date. And you must get a copy before the agreement can take effect.

How overtime is calculated under an averaging agreement

If you have an averaging agreement and you work more than the scheduled hours in a day, you’re entitled to overtime pay for any extra time worked. Your employer must pay you one-and-a-half times your regular wage for the extra time worked outside of the schedule. They must pay you double your regular wage for any time worked over 12 hours in a day.

For example, say you earn $16 per hour. Under your averaging agreement, you’re scheduled to work a 10-hour shift. You end up working 12 hours. You’re entitled to the one-and-a-half times overtime rate of $24 per hour for the extra two hours you worked.

As well, you’re entitled to overtime pay if you work more than an average of 40 hours per week in the period covered by your averaging agreement. Your employer must pay you one-and-a-half times your regular wage for the time over 40 hours.

For example, say your averaging agreement sets out four 10-hour shifts per week (Monday to Thursday). Your boss calls you in on Saturday, and you end up working an extra four hours. For those additional hours you’re owed the one-and-a-half times overtime rate of $24 per hour because those hours are outside the averaging agreement and exceed 40 hours per week.

Who can help

Helpful agencies

Employment Standards Branch
The BC government office that deals with complaints against employers.
Employment and Social Development Canada
Deals with complaints against employers in federally-regulated industries.

  • Reviewed in October 2018
  • This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
  • Time to read: 12 minutes

Reviewed for legal accuracy by

Carolyn Janusz, Victory Square Law Office LLP and Valerie Dixon, City of Vancouver

Carolyn Janusz
Valerie Dixon

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