Overtime generally means any work over the basic working hours included in your contract. Regulations say that most workers can't be made to work more than an average of 48 hours a week, but they can agree to work longer. This agreement must be in writing and signed by you.

Overtime pay

There's no legal right to pay for working extra hours and there are no minimum statutory levels of overtime pay, although your average pay rate must not fall below the National Minimum Wage.

Your contract of employment should include details of overtime pay rates and how they're worked out.

Overtime rates vary from employer to employer, some will pay extra for working weekends or bank holidays. Others won't.

Time off instead of pay for working overtime

Instead of paying for overtime, some employers offer 'time off in lieu'. This is agreed between you and your employer and any time you take off will normally be at a time that suits the employer.

Some companies have rules on when time off can be taken, but others arrange time off on a case by case basis.

Overtime and payment for time off

An employer should consider guaranteed and non-guaranteed overtime when calculating statutory holiday pay. Where voluntary overtime is 'normal remuneration', an employer may also need to take this into account when calculating holiday pay.

Overtime isn't usually taken into account when working out paid maternity, paternity or adoption leave. However, it is taken into account when the overtime is guaranteed and you have to work the overtime as part of your employment contract.

There are limits to working overtime

Your contract of employment should include the conditions for working overtime. You only have to work overtime if your contract says so.

Even if it does you can't usually be forced to work more than an average of 48 hours per week.

If you're told to work more than this and you don't want to, you should first take it up with your employer.

Unless your contract guarantees you overtime, your employer can stop you working it. But your employer must not discriminate against you, or bully you, by letting others work overtime while denying you the opportunity.

Your contract of employment should say what your normal working hours and days are and this may include or exclude working on Sundays. Whether this counts as overtime working depends on your employment contract.

Workers in betting premises and in retail shops can choose to opt out of working on a Sunday.

Overtime for part-time workers

Unless it says differently in their contract of employment, employers will usually only pay overtime to part-time workers when they work:

  • longer hours than are included in their contract (although sometimes they might just get their normal rate)
  • more than the normal working hours of full-time staff (when they must receive extra payments if full-time staff receive them)
  • unsocial hours for which a full-time employee would get more pay

It is a legal requirement that part-time workers must not be treated less favourably than full-time staff.

Changes to patterns of work

Your employer may need to change your conditions or patterns of work because of business or economic factors. However, your contract of employment can only be changed if both you and your employer agree to this.

It's a breach of contract to change your working conditions without your agreement.

How your overtime is managed

Firstly, check your contract of employment for details of how overtime is worked out and what the rates of pay should be. If you don't have a written contract, you may find the article on contracts of employment helpful.

Remember that your employer must, by law, give you written terms and conditions within two months of starting work.

What you should do next

If anything isn't clear, you should take up the problem with your employer. You might find it helpful to ask an employee representative, like a trade union official, to help you.

You should also look at the papers you were given when you started work, such as the written statement of terms and an employee's handbook if one was provided.

Where to get help

The Labour Relations Agency offers free, confidential and impartial advice on all employment rights issues.

Advice NI offers free and impartial advice.

If you are a member of a trade union, you can get help, advice and support from them.

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