Working overtime can be horrible sometimes.
The short answer is: it depends.
Overtime in South Africa is a complicated section of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA) but we've managed to break it down for you.
No contract, no grievance
If no contract exists, it is not only illegal but it's also extremely difficult to take action if you or your employer has a grievance. Any query regarding any situation in the workplace comes down to the previously agreed upon terms.
If there is no contract specifying that you are required to work overtime when needed, you can refuse the request to do so. You are however required to work overtime if the contract is more specific and a refusal to then work the contractually agreed upon overtime amounts to misconduct.
Amount of hours
If your contract says that you must work overtime and also specifies “only when needed” then the amount of overtime you work in one week shouldn't be more than 10 hours. You can refuse to work overtime if you've already worked 10 hours of overtime that week.
If your contract says that you could work up to 20 hours per week overtime, and you've signed the agreement as such, then you can't refuse to work that amount of hours in overtime. Even though the BCEA says that employees may not work more than 10 hours a week overtime, the fact that you signed a contract saying otherwise means you won't be able to refuse the extra 20 hours.
Read: How to say no (politely)
Overtime and short notice
If the contract says that you must work overtime and it doesn’t specifically mention “even if requested on short notice” then you are allowed to refuse to work that overtime. But if the contract says that you will be required to work overtime even on short notice, and you have already signed the contract, then you can't refuse to work that overtime.
The agreement lapses
If you, for example, signed your contract in June 2013 - with the overtime details specified - the overtime agreement isn't valid after June 2014 according to the BCEA. Unless there was some kind of renewal of the overtime agreement 12 months later in June 2014, you can refuse to work overtime. That is only if your contract says to ignore this BCEA rule. Mr Khumalo won a case using this principle against his company in 2008.
His employer, ARP Refrigeration Manufacturing had to reinstate him after it was found that his manager, Michael Mosikidi, could not legally ask the employee, Mr Khumalo, to work overtime. The company could not prove that there was a renewal of any overtime agreement after the one year lapse described above, especially since the contract specifically states 'in accordance to the BCEA.'
The illegality of the initial request made by management also meant that Mr Khumalo could not be disciplined for disobedience either.
Section 6 of the BCEA states that the normal requirement about overtime being acceptable only if previously agreed upon does not apply in cases where “work which is required to be done without delay owing to circumstances for which the employer could not reasonably have been expected to make provision and which cannot be performed by employees during their ordinary hours of work.”
This means that if maybe something unexpectedly breaks that hinders production and you're responsible to fix it so that important deadlines are not missed, then you cannot refuse to work overtime to resolve it.
Related: How to claim Maternity Benefits in South Africa
What it comes down to…
To summarise the Basic Conditions of Employment Act:
Unless your employee contract is specific regarding issues of overtime, you cannot be forced to work any extra hours other than your normal work day. All overtime is, in this case, is then completely voluntary.
So, check your contract immediately and see how specific it is about working overtime, and how many hours of overtime you're required to work. And while you're at it, make it your mission to find out exactly how much you should be paid for every hour of overtime too.
We have plenty of more career enhancing tips for you, so be sure to stay up to date with Careers24's Advice to be the best employee you can be.