Dear Overwhelmed…


Dear Working Wise:

I work for a company that operates round-the-clock five days a week. My employer forces us to work 12-hour shifts whenever someone is on holidays. One of my co-workers even got written up for not working overtime. Are employers allowed to make overtime mandatory? Signed Overwhelmed by Overtime

Dear Overwhelmed:

Yes, employers can make overtime mandatory. Few provinces have legislation that gives employees the right to refuse overtime. But there are limits to how much overtime your employer can ask you to work and how much notice your employer must give you.

Most Albertans can not be asked to work more than 12 hours in a single day. All work hours must also fall within a 12-hour period in a workday, unless an unforeseeable emergency occurs. And employers are required to provide written notice of a shift change 24 hours before the shift.

Employees are entitled to a minimum 30 minutes of rest—paid or unpaid at the employer’s discretion—during a shift that lasts five consecutive hours or more.

These of course are the minimum standards and many employers voluntarily provide staff with additional breaks and notice of shift changes or expected overtime.

The only other issue related to your overtime concern is fatigue and worker safety.

Workplace fatigue is addressed by the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Code. Employers are required to conduct workplace hazard assessments, a responsibility that includes monitoring worker fatigue.

In cases where a worker’s fatigue has become a worksite hazard, the employer may require the fatigued worker to rest and take time off for safety reasons.

Section 35 of the OHS Act states that a worker must not carry out any work if there exists an imminent danger to the health and safety of the worker.

That could be applied to fatigue hazard in an extreme situation but it has to meet the definition of “imminent danger” as stated in section 35(2).

Obviously, you are not completely satisfied with the current overtime arrangement in your workplace.

You might want to try getting a few like-minded co-workers together to discuss your concerns with your supervisor/manager. It would be a good idea if you brainstormed some solutions to the problem with your co-workers before you try to negotiate a change.

You are much more likely to be successful if you can bring solutions to the table that satisfy your needs and your employer’s needs—instead of just complaints.

For more information on workplace fatigue, visit and check out the bulletin called Fatigue and Safety at the Workplace or call Occupational Health and Safety toll-free at 1-866-415-8690.

For more information on overtime and occupations exempted from Alberta’s
Employment Standards, visit and click on Alberta’s
Standards. You can also call and speak to an Employment Standards staff person toll-free at: 1-877-427-3731.

Good luck!

Do you have a work-related question? Send your questions to Working Wise, at Charles Strachey is a manager with Alberta Human Services. This column is provided for general information.