How to Ensure Employees Aren’t Working Unpaid Hours

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Matthew Reymes-Cole

Matthew Reymes Cole

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24 Sep 2021

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Are your employees struggling to “switch-off” at the end of the working day?

The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and the widespread shift to home working arrangements have had a knock-on effect on employees’ working hours. This has resulted in a lack of distinction between work-life and home-life. Many employees are now checking emails, answering calls, or completing work-related activities beyond their contractual hours.

The risk of losing a good work-life balance with employees working unpaid hours increases when they work exclusively from home.  

It's difficult to track and manage the extra work employees are undertaking remotely. As such, you might not be paying staff for this time. Employees working unpaid hours could result in work disputes that you want to avoid.

HR working unpaid hours


Unpaid hours

The risks

Failing to pay employees for working hours can pose significant risks. Your business could face tribunal claims and costly compensation payments. You also risk paying employees less than the statutory national minimum wage (NMW) rates.

If this happens, in addition to tribunal claims, you could face an investigation from HMRC. They can issue fines for non-compliance with NMW regulations. In the worst-case scenario, businesses like yours end up in public naming and shaming government campaigns. Not only this, but the government can ban you from being a company director for up to 15 years.

How do I reduce unpaid hours?

Think of why you need to take the appropriate steps to ensure employees aren’t working unpaid hours. Where necessary, you should even discourage voluntary overtime.

A great way of doing this is to introduce a right to disconnect policy. This will promote the idea that you should only complete work within contractual hours. It will also reinforce home-time as a period of rest of relaxation.

By using this method, you encourage positive mental wellbeing, as well as increased productivity and motivation. In turn, this reduces burnout and stress-related absences. It also helps set the expectation that you won’t pay for additional work time. Employers should still keep in mind the impact this might have on average pay for total hours of work. Check that it doesn’t fall below national minimum wage rates—as well as the impact on the weekly working limit.

Finally, check any relevant policies and procedures within your contracts and handbook. Make sure that there are no contractual entitlements to enhanced overtime rates or guaranteed overtime hours.

working unpaid hours right to disconnect

Further measures to prevent working unpaid hours

An efficient clock in/out system can help address the imbalance of on-site and remote working. By using such a system, you will monitor those who are working past their contractual finish time. In turn, you’ll be able to calculate overtime pay and reduce risks.

Offering flexible working patterns can further support a better work-life balance.

This will ensure employees are meeting their commitments in the workplace.

Flexible working offers staff with childcare responsibilities the possibility to complete work later in the day. Similarly, employees with disabilities who have concerns over utilising public transport during peak hours may benefit from flexible start and end times.

Allowing flexibility with start and finish times or working days ensures they are not working any unpaid hours. Such measures also boost morale and encourage retention. Employees will feel supported and valued by their employers.

Individual businesses can identify the tools which work best for their organisation. Whatever your approach, you should work collaboratively with your workforce. Verify the system you intend to put in place against all employment law legislation and create a culture of support and development.

Expert support

Get support with working hours, workforce management, and staff pay by contacting an HR expert today on 01455 858 132.

About the Author

Matthew Reymes-Cole

Matt joined Croner in 2007 as an employment law consultant and has advised clients of all sizes on all aspects of employment law. He has worked within management positions since 2017 and currently overseas a team within the litigation department, whilst continuing to support a number of clients directly.

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