Stacks/The Law Firm

The rush to get rid of the weekend is gathering pace. Three banks and a major finance house – all big employers – have applied to Fair Work Australia to rule that weekends be considered normal working hours. The application proposes the span of ordinary working hours to be 7am to 7pm Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm on Saturdays, and 8am to 6pm Sundays.

It’s all part of the push for a 24/7 economy, for employers to be able to demand workers be available to work at all hours. Or, as is often happening, to work broken shifts which suit the employer.

But what if you don’t want to work weekends or late at night – even if there is a shift allowance? What if you’d rather be with family, friends or playing sport?

Do you have the right to say no? What rights do you have if you refuse?

It pays to get good legal advice on this so you are ready if your boss says it’s this way or the highway.

Strange as it may seem, we have no legal right to a weekend. Under the Fair Work Act there are provisions for making work hours “flexible”.

Basically, there are two types of worker when it comes to this issue. There is the traditional industry where workers are covered by an award. These awards have protections for workers such as penalty rates. There are procedures and policies in place by which people can sort out a flexible work arrangement – if they’ve worked there for 12 months.

The legal test for a worker’s right to refuse a demand to work weekends is whether they have “reasonable” grounds. That definition can mean many things and it’s best to get legal advice for each particular case.

There is far less protection for casuals or contract workers. If a worker in this category refuses to work weekends and the boss treats them badly such as demoting, discriminating against them or sacking them, it’s worth consulting an expert in employment law. They might have a claim against their employer if they’ve taken “unreasonable, harsh or unjust” actions.

Technology too has eaten into workers’ free time. Emails, texts and tweets from the office while at home, on weekends and holidays are the norm for an increasing number of workers. In Brazil workers can claim overtime each time they get an out-of-hours contact from work. What are the chances of that happening here?

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.