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No. 15 – As a part-time employee, is my overtime reasonable?

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9 June 2021

Each week, Dr Kirstin Ferguson tackles questions on the workplace, career and leadership in her advice column “Got a minute?” This week, overtime as a part-time employee, being honest about mental health, and racial discrimination in the workforce.

I work part-time on an hourly rate. When someone works full-time there is an expectation of reasonable overtime, but in the case of a part-time employee should the same rules apply? Can my employer argue an extra two hours is reasonable overtime with no further remuneration for part-time employees? I feel like I am getting ripped off.

I reckon the fact that you are feeling ripped off means you need to have a conversation with your employer. And soon. It can be a slippery slope from being asked to stay back after a shift (unpaid) once, to it becoming a regular occurrence. Without it being addressed this might move from a case of being unreasonable to feeling like wage theft.

Before you chat with your employer, have a think about how many hours a week you work and what you think a reasonable amount of overtime, if any, might be. Also have a think about how often you are prepared to do it. The fewer hours you work, the lower the amount of overtime should be. It sounds like if overtime has become more regular, the more it will feel like a permanent change to your hours.

Go to your meeting armed with plenty of data including historical information of the number of paid hours and overtime hours you have been working. Be sure to know your rights, read your employment contract and get advice from Fair Work Australia if you need to.

I struggle with anxiety and depression from time to time but generally manage it well through therapy and medication. I am a high performer at work and have not shared this information with my employer. Every so often I do find it hard to manage my mental health and so I take annual leave. Should I be honest with my employer and be open about the challenges I deal with?

Thanks for sharing your story which will resonate with many readers. Not wanting to share your personal mental health challenges at work is understandable and also completely OK. You know what is best for you.

It sounds though like you are wondering if being honest may actually assist you and, in that case, do you have someone at work you really trust? Someone you know won’t judge you or may even have been through something similar? Perhaps see if there is a way to talk to them about your experiences. Almost half of all Australians experience a mental health condition at some point in their lifetime – you might find the person is dealing with something similar to you.

Being open about what you are dealing with, even just with one person, might also make it easier to use sick leave at those times when you need it, rather than annual leave. Being able to keep your annual leave for when you simply want to have a holiday is bound to have a positive impact on your mental health too.

Three years ago, my partner passed away. Afterwards, I fell quite ill and had to take additional time off. During my convalescence, I enrolled in two further educational courses. I am 51, with good education and good professional skills but I speak with an accent and have a foreign name.How can I mitigate discrimination in the workforce and what should I put in my resume for the time I was convalescing?

It has been disheartening to read the number of letters to this column just like yours. People with non-Anglo-Saxon names, people with endless qualifications and are generally over 50 finding it so hard to get work. I am so sorry you have encountered closed-minded employers who can’t see past recruiting someone who doesn’t look and sound like themselves.

In terms of your resume, be completely honest about the period in your career when you were undertaking further education. You don’t need to explain to anyone that you were unwell or grieving for your wife. As far as any potential employer is concerned, all you need to tell them is that you are someone who is dedicated to continual education, to bringing even greater skills to your role and that you are resilient and with many years of hard-won experience. I wish you every success in your job hunt.

Send your questions about work, careers and leadership to Your name and any identifying information will not be used. Letters may be edited.

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