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THE QUESTION

My company routinely requires senior managers to work in excess of 100 hours a week, sometimes for months on end without time off. Managers understand they are well compensated, and have developed essential specialized skills by the time they work in a management capacity. But overwork and sleep deprivation in this company has destroyed families and led to suicide. Is it legal or ethical to require senior managers to work, essentially, unlimited 24/7? What can we do in this situation?

THE FIRST ANSWER

Daniel Lublin

Employement lawyer Whitten and Lublin, Toronto

There is nothing illegal or unethical with requiring senior managers to work long and hard hours just as it is not illegal or unethical to require managers to work overtime without extra pay. If you are true manager (and it looks like you are) then there is no legislated overtime pay requirement, however long or meritorious your extra work or service. It would only be improper if the company is labelling you as a manager when you are not actually one, in order to avoid paying overtime.

Unlike overtime pay, vacation time is mandatory and generally can only be relinquished with your consent. So, depending on whether you work for a provincial or federally regulated company and where you live, you are entitled to a minimum amount of vacation time that you must be granted each year. You should stand up for yourself and insist that it be taken.

There is nothing preventing you from trying to negotiate lieu time or bonus payments from your employer to compensate you for the extra hours of work – and many managers do just that. There is also nothing preventing you from leaving this job for any other if the hours of work and working conditions are too harsh. The choice to remain in this job is yours alone to make.

THE SECOND ANSWER

Marc-Etienne Julien

President of Randstad Canada, Montreal

From a merely legal standpoint, unless there is a written agreement between the employee and your company this would be illegal. Standards exist around the number of hours that employees are allowed to work and how many hours they must be allowed to have off.

Mind you in the professional world, hearing about managers working 60 or 70 hours a week, for long periods of time isn't unheard of – but, nearly 100 hours a week (14 hours a day, seven days a week), is excessive.

Professional burnout at that rate isn't surprising and it is extremely distressing to hear that employers' and families' health are being impacted so directly.

This style of work culture isn't healthy. There are arguments to be made that at peek volume extra hours are to be expected, but when your office culture is a contributing factor to mental distress new organizational habits need developed.

For you, you need to consider what the impact has been on you, on your stress levels and on your health. You can also begin to refuse to work those types of hours – in this work environment you can't literally be chained to your desk and forced to work. If the environment has been poisoned by dangerous expectations there are grounds for recourse if you are dismissed.

Your career shouldn't kill you and an organization that requires people to work 100 hours a week year-round to achieve its goals is wasting the goodwill and good work of good people.

Got a burning issue at work? Need help navigating that mine field? Let our Nine To Five experts help solve your dilemma. E-mail your questions to ninetofive@globeandmail.com. Your confidentiality is ensured.

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