I have succeeded at getting what I thought to be a great job after a grueling three-stage interview. I work with nice people doing engaging and creative work. The pay is not great but its above minimum wage.

However, my contract says I will be paid for 37.5 hours a week with no compensation for overtime. So far I have worked 41, 46 and 50 hours in my first three weeks in that order so it seems to be getting worse. I am given some time off for particularly bad days. For example I worked 20 hours and got home at 4a.m. which entitled me to the day off after. However it is not a 1:1 ratio so I still effectively ended up working 20 hours and getting paid for 16. I have been asked to sign a waiver for the “Working Time Regulations 1988” which says I am allowed to work more than 48 hours a week. So far I have not signed it.

I have been told by colleagues that no one lasts more than two years but the company seems to be able to cope - it has been around for 20 years. I struggled to find a job and really do not want to leave but I feel I am being used and it is really demoralising me.

There is only a small team and they required a lot of training so I thought we might have some clout together but that is effectively trying to organise a union and I am probably in over my head with that. Does anyone have any bright ideas for how to improve the work situation?

  • 1
    If they've been going for 20 years it's unlikely that you can change them, either you make a big stink about working time over your contracted times or look for something else.
    – Snowlockk
    Jun 20, 2017 at 8:08
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    Who ordered you to do overtime? Was it in writing?
    – nvoigt
    Jun 20, 2017 at 8:13
  • I have been in a similar situation in where a company asked me to sign the same waiver, I ended up not signing. The recruiter for the position was promoting the benefits of signing the waiver but I only saw it as a trap. I left the company couple weeks after. The recruiter mentioned afterwards how he had problems hiring for the company! My advise would be immediately look for another role, try to delay the signing as long as possible. As @Snowlockk said they will most likely not change in their ways.
    – JavaGuru
    Jun 20, 2017 at 10:36
  • You can use this to check if what you are being paid is even legal.
    – T. Sar
    Jun 20, 2017 at 12:23
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    Important point: Is it above minimum wage for the hours you actually work? (Not the number in the contract). If not, find another job, leave, and sue them for the balance (and don't forget to shop them to the Inland Revenue). Jun 20, 2017 at 12:58

5 Answers 5


Simply state that you will not work for free. Because after your 37.5 hours, that's what you're doing. If they refuse to compensate you, leave them. You are a person with needs, and to expect someone to work for free is both dehumanizing and immoral. Just remember that you are in control of the amount of abuse you take. If a company doesn't care about you, you should not care about them.

Be professional and fair when bringing up any of these points with your employer. Note that compensation could also be in the form of time off.

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    I think this is bad advice. The number of hours written in the contract is indicative of the amount of work an employee is expected to do, but for a professional position I would expect custom-and-practise to be that employees worked more than that. The hours are not unpaid, the salary is for "getting the job done", not £45 / hour. Jun 20, 2017 at 12:54
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    Just because something is custom-and-practice, doesn't make it right. If a contract states that you'll be doing 37.5 hours of paid work a week, that's what you do. What's the point of having a contract if you're not even going to comply with it? And our OP is not earning £45 / hour. That's the sort of wage you get when you do have to work unpaid overtime on a regular basis. OP's wage per hour is probably working out at minimum wage or lower here- which is unacceptable.
    – DCON
    Jun 20, 2017 at 13:31
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    "probably working out at minimum wage or lower here" - I see no evidence of that. Where, between minimum-wage and £45/hour, does the cross over occur between "if the contract says 37.5 hours that is what you do", and "you do have to work unpaid overtime on a regular basis". (Given that everyone's contract will stipulate a number of hours). Jun 20, 2017 at 13:59
  • The pays not great but it's above minimum wage I don't think he'd have mentioned it being above minimum wage if it was far off it. As for that "cross over", it occurs when you don't feel like you're getting "bent over" anymore..
    – DCON
    Jun 20, 2017 at 14:08

Do NOT under any circumstances sign that you are exempt from the 48 hour protection, and note that while your employer can ask you, it is illegal to take any action against you if you refuse to sign.

Yes, it is legal in the UK to not be paid for overtime, as long as your pay per hour worked is above the minimum wage. That said, nobody can force you to work overtime. And if the pay "is not great" for 37.5 hours a week, then it should be easy to find someone who pays you better.

You are working for a company that exploits people. Don't let them do it. Go home every day after 7.5 hours. There are two possibilities: They are trying to exploit you, but will give in if they find they can't. Or they will fire you, in which case you will tell your next employer that you didn't agree with doing 12.5 hours unpaid overtime a week. Most employers won't hold that against you. The ones that do failed the job interview.

  • To be fair rightly or wrongly pretty much every big bank I've worked for in IT (3 so far) asks you to sign the 48 hour waiver before you even step in the door. This is due to you being on-call and potentially having to work over these hours. That however does not mean that they can or should expect you to work constantly over the standard 35, 37.5 or whatever hours constantly which is a different thing entirely from an occasional need for longer hours. Aug 11, 2020 at 15:05
  • @RichCampbell but the banks also pay bonuses
    – mmmmmm
    Aug 11, 2020 at 17:07
  • @mmmmmm - have you seen bank bonuses lately? You'll be lucky to get 5-10% tops (outside trading) and more likely the lower of that. Aug 12, 2020 at 5:50
  • 1
    The opt-out is for working 48 hours on average for 13 consecutive weeks. So if you opt-out then you should clearly expect to work 48 hours for 13 consecutive weeks.
    – gnasher729
    Aug 13, 2020 at 8:00

I used to work nine-hour days regularly (and happily), and then my son was born. Suddenly I had to leave at 5:30 to pick him up from nursery. It turned out that the world did not collapse, nobody at my office objected, and there was no negative impact on my job.

The first thing I would try, is just saying "I'm not being productive any longer, I'm off." and leaving the office at a reasonable time. It's important to set expectations.

Remember the amount of work you get done, is not linear with the number of hours you spend in the office - in fact, for many creative tasks, if you stay too long you are likely to undo good work you did earlier.

If there is push back from your manager when you try to work reasonable hours, I would polish my CV and start looking for a better job. When asked, I would say that I was looking for a better work-life balance, and was working 50 hour weeks by my third week. (You need to get that figure in - just saying that you don't like working long hours will be a red flag to employers. Saying that you don't like working 50 hours weeks won't.)

  • 1
    That comes to a surprise to many who feel they have to work overtime or excessive overtime: Nobody thanks you, nobody values you more for it.
    – gnasher729
    Aug 13, 2020 at 7:59

my contract says I will be paid for 37.5 hours a week with no compensation for overtime.

This was ruled illegal in Germany, as there has to be an upper limit. You cannot sign a contract without knowing what you sign up for and "no compensation for an unspecified amount of overtime" legally means you don't know. So I suspect that might be the case in the UK, too.

I have been asked to sign a waiver for the “Working Time Regulations 1988” which says I am allowed to work more than 48 hours a week

In Germany, such a waiver would be illegal, because what's the point of regulations if you could just opt-out? It appears that it's legal in the UK but it has to be voluntarily and without repercussions if you don't opt-out. Based on your description, I suspect that your employer will not honor the later.

effectively trying to organise a union

If you really want to do this, the first step is to contract an actual union to help you. You cannot do this on your own against a company with 20 years of experience avoiding exactly that.

So you are in a job that is cheating you out of money, with a shady legal background, in which nobody is lasting longer than 2 years and the best thing you can come up with is "it's above minimum wage". Don't invest time there. Make money while you need to and in the mean time, find a better job or an education that will allow you to get a better job.

  • 5
    Bear in mind that some EU legislation is implemented differently in different countries. This is one of those times. The Working Time Regulations 1988 waiver is standard practice for certain types of professional roles, including IT in the UK, so your advice here is incorrect. gov.uk/maximum-weekly-working-hours/…
    – toadflakz
    Jun 20, 2017 at 8:16
  • @toadflakz Thanks for the info. I would not call "I suspect it's the same" (which means call a UK lawyer and find out) "incorrect advice", but I updated it to be more precise.
    – nvoigt
    Jun 20, 2017 at 8:20
  • Pretty sure such a contract is legal in the UK. (Source: personal experience, and an interest in law). Jun 20, 2017 at 9:46
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    Downvoted. You clearly don't have expertise in UK employment law. Germany is a useful comparison but does not answer the question, and is actually misleading.
    – user29055
    Jun 20, 2017 at 11:11
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    @Midas: It's implemented approximately the same in the whole EU, minus the UK. They negotiated an opt-out. It's only that specific exception which makes the German case irrelevant.
    – MSalters
    Jun 20, 2017 at 14:47

I really think some of the advice is unhelpful here. For some industries, it is the norm to work long hours for what is ultimately low pay on a per hour basis. Saying this is "not right" is not going to change the case that they exist.

These companies continue to exist because a) this is short term pain for a longer term pay off (think investment banking where analysts earn minimum wage on a per hour basis but have the chance of earning millions later) b) people working there have no other choice.

The advice I would give is, don't try and change the company, decide whether poor work life balance is something you can accept and if not start planning your exit. It would be worth looking around to see what else is out there and what the norm is for your industry. I have to say 50 hours translates to a 9am-7pm which doesn't sound bad overall. However, it sounds like there are short periods with large crunches on certain days. This sounds a lot like bad time / project management so it might be worth exploring if the bumpiness can be smoothed.

e.g. "I feel these spikes in work really hurt productivity, I was out for a day afterwards. Would something like X work to smooth out workload? If so, we could get the same amount done but have it spread over the week"

  • 1
    You seem to have missed the fact that the OP lives in a relatively civilised part of the developed world.
    – TonyK
    Aug 12, 2020 at 17:34
  • Yes, it's a UK company from the title. London based investment banks have people working 100 hour weeks, many professional services companies expect 70 hour weeks. A tech company I worked for, 50 hours was the norm. Not saying its a good thing but it's sometimes a reality. Without knowing the specific industry OP is in, it's hard to give advice on whether their experience is abnormal. While you can absolutely try to change the practice of an entire industry, OP should go into that fully aware of what they are trying to achieve. Aug 12, 2020 at 17:57

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