Retailer Urban Outfitters has caused a stir in the US by asking for employees to work unpaid overtime during the weekend.
An internal email obtained by a US gossip website told employees that it was looking for volunteers to pick and pack goods for delivery over the weekends this October.
The email sells the role as a team building activity and as “a great way to experience our fulfilment operations first hand.” Whilst the invitation glosses over the fact that the experience is unpaid, it does mention that the company will provide lunch and transport.
Whilst this enticing offer was only available to employees in the USA (the company has since removed the listing from its website), it raises the question of what UK employees are entitled to when it comes to working overtime.
Overtime is any time that an employee works in addition to their normal full-time hours. This can be on either a compulsory or a voluntary basis; however compulsory overtime must be set out in the terms and conditions of employment. Even under the terms of compulsory overtime, an employee cannot work for more than 48 hours per week if they have not opted out of the working time directive.
You are not legally obliged to pay an employee for any overtime worked; however you may choose to do so. You should detail your policies on overtime (including the rates of pay if applicable) in your terms of employment. Alternatively you may want to offer time off in lieu rather than pay for any overtime hours worked, which you can manage either through a formal flexitime scheme or on an individual, case-by-case basis.
What employers must ensure is that an employee’s pay does not fall below the National Minimum Wage rate due to the overtime hours that they have worked.
Urban Outfitters have not done anything wrong by asking their employees to work unpaid overtime, and a UK business without an overtime policy in place would be free to ask the same.
Whether many employees would leap at the chance to be involved or not is a different matter.