Australia Overtime Laws

February 29th 2024

Under the Australian Labour Laws, employees may extend their work hours beyond their regular hours to include reasonable overtime, provided that there is mutual consent from the employer and employee. It is important that an employee’s overtime hours are compensated and should not have any health or safety implications. Overtime laws in Australia are regulated by the National Employment Standards and specified in the modern award, registered agreement, or employment contract.

This guide aims to provide useful details about the overtime regulations in Australia, ensuring all employees receive fair compensation.

This article covers:

Australia Overtime Rates

Under the National Employment Standards, full-time employees are expected to work a maximum of 38 hours per week (7 hours and 36 minutes per day). These hours are considered regular working hours, and any hours worked beyond these hours may be categorised as overtime.

The overtime rate in Australia is 1.5 times the employee’s hourly rate.

This rate may, however, vary depending on a specific industry, and is often calculated as 1.5 times for the first 2 hours of work, and double for subsequent hours. You can use this formula to calculate overtime pay:

agreed hourly rate x 1.5 = overtime hourly rate for the first 2 hours

agreed hourly rate x 2 = overtime hourly rate for the subsequent hours

It can be difficult to calculate overtime pay for a large number of employees. Employers can handle this situation efficiently using time tracking software.

The penalty rate in Australia is compensated at higher rates. Employees may be entitled to a penalty rate when working:

  • Weekends
  • Public holidays
  • Overtime
  • Late-night shifts or
  • Early morning shifts.

Overtime Entitlement in Australia

Employees in Australia are not obligated to work overtime unless their job contract requires it. According to legislation, employees cannot be forced to work more than 48 hours each week on average. They may agree to work additional hours, but the agreement must be in writing and signed by the employee. Employers may restrict their employees from working overtime if the contract does not provide for overtime.

It is also critical to assess and manage health and safety concerns, such as fatigue, when employees are asked to work overtime. Employees are free to refuse overtime work that goes beyond a reasonable number of weekly hours.

Compensatory Time in Australia

Some modern awards include a compensatory time or a “time off in lieu” clause, which specifies that an employee is entitled to take paid time off instead of receiving overtime pay. However, this may vary from industry to industry.

Furthermore, requesting compensatory time must be reasonable. Any request for time off in the middle of an important project, or just before a tight deadline with a major client may not be reasonable and can be declined on these grounds.

Overtime Limitations for Nurses in Australia

According to the Nurses Awards, nurses are paid overtime rates depending on their classification. Below is the table summarizing the rates for full-time, part-time, and casual nurses.

Classification Monday to Saturday Sunday Public Holidays
Full-time and part-time First 2 hours 150% of the minimum hourly rate 200% of the minimum hourly rate 250% of the minimum hourly rate
After 2 hours 200% of the minimum hourly rate 200% of the minimum hourly rate 250% of the minimum hourly rate
Casual First 2 hours 150% of the minimum casual rate 200% of the minimum casual rate 250% of the minimum casual rate
After 2 hours 200% of the minimum casual rate 200% of the minimum casual rate 250% of the minimum casual rate


Overtime rates do not apply to Registered Nurses Levels 4 (Assistant Director of Nursing) and 5 (Director of Nursing). When it comes to part-time employees, overtime rates only apply after exceeding the daily full-time hours.

Nurses are entitled to have a rest period of at least 10 consecutive hours after overtime. If the employee has to resume work without the rest period, they must receive 200% of their base rate. If the employee has to work overtime for more than 4 hours, they are entitled to a paid 20-minute rest break.

In Australia, the welfare of nurses is upheld and healthcare facilities cannot compel nurses to work beyond their regular working hours. However, there are exceptions to the limitation on working beyond agreed-upon regular shifts or accepting overtime:

  • A school nurse assisting with a field trip.
  • Nurses who voluntarily work overtime on a medical transport aircraft.
  • Nurses involved in an ongoing medical procedure.
  • Nurses at a rural healthcare facility that has declared a temporary nurse-staffing emergency.
  • Nursing work during an emergency or unforeseen weather conditions.
  • Nurses with a previously agreed-upon on-call time.
  • Nurses voluntarily work overtime within professional standards for safe patient care, provided it does not exceed 14 consecutive hours.
  • Nurses voluntarily work beyond 80 hours in a 14-day period, as long as they do not work more than 14 consecutive hours without a 10-hour break.
  • Nurses working the first two hours on overtime status while the health care facility arranges a replacement, as long as the nurse does not exceed 14 consecutive hours on duty.
  • Nurses at a psychiatric treatment hospital or residential psychiatric treatment center (exclusively for children).

Overtime for Piece Rate-Based Employees in Australia

Under the Horticulture Award, pieceworkers are not eligible for overtime compensation. Hours worked while earning a piecework rate are not counted towards overtime. However, if the employee is paid by the hour, they are compensated.

Hourly piece rate workers are paid 175% of their regular hourly wage. They only receive overtime pay if they work more than:

  • 12 hours per engagement
  • 12 hours in a single day.
  • 304 regular hours throughout an 8-week period.

Overtime Exceptions and Exemptions in Australia

Under the Fair Work Legislation, employers are only allowed to request or require employees to work beyond their maximum weekly hours if deemed necessary and reasonable. Moreover, the following employees are exempt from overtime compensation:

  • Employees who work for a business that is covered by a registered agreement: It is understandable that employees with registered agreements (i.e., enterprise agreements and agreement-based transitional instruments) receive better benefits than the general modern award.
  • High-income threshold exemption: If the employee is earning above the annual salary threshold of AU$162,000. However, there are criteria to be met to ensure compliance, i.e., the threshold increases annually and the annual earnings are guaranteed.

Statute of Limitations for Unpaid Overtime in Australia

Employers who fail to comply with modern awards may face monetary penalties. A penalty could be in the form of a fine or an ordered payment for the employee. Monetary penalties can be as high as $63,000 for each violation of a right. Moreover, the penalty may vary based on some factors (e.g., the employer’s intentional negligence, whether the employer is a repeat offender, or the circumstances surrounding the violation). The statute of limitations may be up to 6 years, depending on the nature of the claim made.

Legal Cases Relating to Overtime Compensation in Australia

Below, we present law cases relating to fair overtime compensation for employees in Australia:

1. Overtime Rights Justified for Junior Doctors, Peninsula Health Facing Thousands of Claims

In Australian Salaried Medical Officers’ Federation v. Peninsula Health, the medical employees sued Peninsula Health for unpaid overtime between 2015 and 2021. The medical junior doctors were allegedly working beyond their rostered hours without pay. However, Peninsula Health argued that overtime was only payable for authorized hours as per their enterprise agreements.

Court Decision: The court decision highlights that Peninsula Health should implement clear policies to regulate overtime and approve overtime. Moreover, the court awarded the lead applicant over $8,000 in unpaid overtime wages, potentially opening the door to compensation for other junior doctors with claims ranging from $5,000 to $50,000.

Key Lessons from the Case:

  • Employers should establish detailed procedures for overtime authorization and ensure they are communicated and consistently applied.
  • Employers must enforce their overtime policies consistently to avoid potential legal challenges and back payments.
  • Employers must regularly review overtime clauses and policies to ensure they align with legal requirements and are effectively enforced.
2. Dick Stone Pty. Ltd. Paid $90,000 in Penalties for Unreasonable Overtime

In Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union v. Dick Stone Pty Ltd, the court found Dick Stone, a meat wholesaler, had breached the Fair Work Act 2009 by requiring an employee, Mr. Samuel Boateng, to work 12 hours beyond the maximum 38-hour weekly limit without paying overtime rates. In addition, Dick Stone wrongly classified Mr. Boateng under the Meat Industry Award 2010, failed to provide copies of the Award and the National Employment Standards (NES), and neglected to post a roster and provide a Fair Work Information Statement to Mr. Boateng.

Court Decision: Justice Anna Katzmann ruled that requiring Mr. Boateng to work 50 hours per week, with an additional 12 hours, was unreasonable. Despite Mr. Boateng’s contract stipulating 50 “ordinary hours,” the court found Dick Stone in breach of Section 62 of the Fair Work Act, as the parties cannot contract out of statutory minima. The court considered factors such as health and safety risks, the employee’s personal circumstances, and the entitlement to additional compensation. Ultimately, it was deemed unreasonable for Dick Stone to require Mr. Boateng to work the additional hours regularly.

Key Lessons from the Case:

  • Employment contracts should specify 38 hours (or less) per week for full-time employees, with reasonable additional hours as required.
  • Employers should be cautious when asking employees to work beyond 38 hours, ensuring compliance with the Fair Work Act and considering factors outlined in Section 62(3).
  • Employers must consult their employees and consider various factors before requesting additional hours to ensure compliance and reasonableness.
  • Employers should consider the nature of roles and levels of responsibility when determining the reasonableness of additional working hours.
  • Employers must ensure compliance with relevant legislation, including providing copies of awards and the NES to employees, posting rosters, and providing Fair Work Information Statements.

Learn about Australia Labour Laws through our detailed guide.

Important Cautionary Note

When making this guide we have tried to make it accurate, but we do not give any guarantee that the information provided is correct or up-to-date. We therefore strongly advise you seek advice from qualified professionals before acting on any information provided in this guide. We do not accept any liability for any damages or risks incurred for use of this guide.