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What Are Reasonable Additional Hours for Lawyers?

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For years, working long hours on overtime have been associated with the legal profession. However, it raises the question of what are reasonable additional hours for those working within the legal industry. As an employer, it is important to know the legal boundaries and rules for lawyers working additional hours. 

Reasonable Additional Hours for All Professions

The National Employment Standards states that full-time employees should work a maximum of 38 ordinary hours per week, plus reasonable additional hours. 

Likewise, the Fair Work Commission considers several factors when deciding whether the request to work is reasonable. So, before you request your staff to work additional hours, consider the following:

  • What are the usual patterns of work in the industry?
  • What are the nature of the employee’s role and responsibility?
  • Are the additional hours according to the Award or agreement? 
  • What are the needs of the workplace?
  • What are the employee’s personal circumstances and family responsibilities?
  • Does working additional hours risk the employee’s health or safety?
  • Is the employee entitled to overtime or penalty rates for working additional hours?
  • Did you give notice to work the additional hours, and the employee give notice of their refusal to work?

Recently, rules have been changing regarding what is considered reasonable additional hours.

In the case of Gorval & Ors v Employsure [2016] FCCA 231, Gorval argued his employer for back payments. He believed he worked through lunch breaks leading to 45 hour weeks. However, Employsure believed that Gorval only worked 40 hours per week. Ultimately, the Judge agreed with Employsure, deciding that an additional two hours per week was reasonable. This is because the additional work aligned with the legal nature of work and the culture of the legal industry of working longer hours. 

Importantly, courts will review employment disputes on a case by case basis. 

Additionally, some employees in law firms will be covered by the Legal Services Award 2010. This modern award sets baseline entitlements for employees, including overtime and penalty rates. Accordingly, it may be acceptable to require employees to work more than 38 hours per week. However, you need to ensure that the rate of pay your employee receives sufficiently compensates them for all their modern award entitlements.

So, to ensure you can adequately respond to a claim for underpayment, you need to maintain accurate records of the hours worked by your staff. 

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Key Takeaways

The legal industry is notorious for long hours of work. However, it is essential that you pay your employees accordingly. Notably, courts have acknowledged that working longer hours may be acceptable:

  • depending on the industry;
  • if specific obligations and entitlements apply; or 
  • where employees are covered by a modern award.

If you need assistance understanding your legal obligations to paying staff, our experienced employment lawyers can assist as part of our LegalVision membership. For a low monthly fee, you will have unlimited access to lawyers to answer your questions and draft and review your documents. Call us today on 1300 544 755 or visit our membership page.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are reasonable additional hours?

Reasonable additional hours are those an employee works beyond their ordinary hours. For full-time employees, it is hours beyond 38 in a given week. Notably, employees can refuse to work the additional hours if the request is unreasonable. 

Are reasonable additional hours different in different industries?

Yes. Courts will assess whether additional hours are reasonable on a case by case basis. In particular, they will have regard to the particular industry the employer operates in. For example, working beyond 38 hours a week could be acceptable in the legal industry.

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