Understanding Employment Law

Understanding Employment Law in Terms of Work Hours

If you want to start a business in which you plan to employ people, understanding employment law regarding issues such as the employment contract, leave days, remuneration, disciplinary action, and work hours is essential. To this end, we recommend seeking legal guidance from attorneys having a thorough understanding of employment law in South Africa.

Understanding employment law is furthermore essential to avoid disputes because of misunderstandings related to the wording of the employment contract. As an employer, you need to comply with all the employment and labour laws of the country, including the laws related to minimum wages, the fair treatment of employees, and the compulsory contributions to UIF.

We briefly discuss the issue of work hours as stipulated in the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA) to give you an indication of why understanding employment law in South Africa is essential to ensure that your actions comply with the legal requirements.


Normal Work Hours

The BCEA sets the maximum normal work hours at 45 hours per week. This comes to a 9-hour workday for the employee, as the lunch break is excluded and pertains to an employee that works five days per week. If the employee is required to work six days a week, then the employee will work a maximum of eight hours per day (excluding the lunch hour).

However, the employee does not have to work the maximum hours and your contract arrangement can thus allow for fewer hours per day or week.


Understanding Employment Law Regarding Lunch Hours

The lunch break is excluded from the work hours because it is unpaid time. The employee can thus do whatever they want with their time off within legal and ethical limits. You cannot prohibit the employee from sleeping, reading, shopping, or simply relaxing. You cannot expect the employee to perform work during this time, unless your contract requires the employee to be available to assist people or perform urgent work during the time if needed. If you require the employee to be available, then the lunch break must be paid.

If an employee works five days per week and has a 1-hour lunch break, then the employee works a maximum of 50 hours in a week – 45 hours of work and five hours of lunch breaks.


Understanding Employment Law – How Many Hours of Work Before Lunch Break?

You have to give the employee a lunch break after five hours of continuous work. Keep in mind that even if you give tea breaks, the employee is still entitled to a lunch break after five hours of work. The tea break does not extend the hours before the lunch break must be given.


Understanding Employment Law Regarding Overtime

No employee has to work more than 45 hours a week. You can thus not force overtime on an employee. The employee must voluntary work more hours. Even employees that earn more than the threshold amount or are in management positions and thus do not fall within the provisions for overtime, cannot be forced to work overtime. They, however, cannot demand overtime payment or time off for overtime worked. We recommend seeking legal advice regarding the matter to ensure that you know which employees fall within this category and how work hours affect them.

All hours worked above the maximum number of work hours allowed a week are overtime, so you must pay the employee accordingly.


What About Emergencies?

In the case of an emergency where equipment breaks down and needs to be fixed immediately, you can require them to work. Only work that cannot be completed during normal hours and which is urgent can be used to justify overtime without choice.

Call us on 011 234 2125 for legal assistance in setting up employment contracts in South Africa to ensure compliance with the requirements of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act.


Disclaimer: This article is for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. You are advised to consult with us before using/relying on this information. The information is relevant to the date of publishing – March 2019.

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