Is it time to define "excessive overtime"?

The tragic death of one B.C worker is raising important questions about just how much overtime is too much.

Is it time to define "excessive overtime"?

The family of a B.C worker who died after completing a 13-hour shift is taking his employer to court, claiming excessive overtime eventually led to his untimely death – but exactly how much overtime is too much?

Rules and regulations

Currently, the Employment Standards Act forbids employers from allowing employees to work “excessive overtime” – but as there is no specific definition, the term remains open to interpretation.

Labour minister Shirley Bond defended the vague wording of the act; “It clearly states in the Employment Standards Act that employers are not permitted to direct employees to work excessive hours if there is a potential impact to their health or safety,” she said, in a press conference earlier this week.

Bao Min Cheng

Hallmark Poultry Processors Ltd., the company at the centre of the controversy, is accused of overworking 41-year-old Bao Min Cheng to the point of death.

According to the lawsuit, Cheng worked 60 to 70 hours each week, doing “repetitive and strenuous” physical labour for minimum-wage.

His family’s lawyer, Matthew Jackson,says Cheng’s employers were aware of the father-of-four’s pre-existing heart condition and owed him a “duty of care” to ensure his safety.

“A minimum reasonable step would have been to cap the number of hours worked to 50 hours per week,” argues Jackson.

Changes ahead?

B.C employment lawyer Graeme McFarlane told HRM that the ambiguous act doesn’t help anybody; “It’s always better to have certainty,” he said. “It assists both employers and employees in understanding their rights.”

McFarlane couldn’t comment on how many hours he felt was excessive but said; “There has to be a balance to determine what that number is going to be.”

Employment lawyer Jennifer Fantini says employers have much to gain from fostering a mutually respectiful relationship with their workers and going beyond the bare minimum required of them by law.

On April 17th, at the HR MasterclassFantini will be disucssing the evolution of the employment relationship and outlining the role employers are legally required to play while explained why we should go beyond that. 

To find out more about the HR Masterclass, click here



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