There comes a time when both employers and employees need to be reminded of the limits to the employment relationship, and the physical limits to which one can push his or her body. In reading a news article published by The Daily Mail, I figured that now was the time for that reminder.

The article’s title, Investment bank intern, 21, on £45,000 worked ‘until 6am for three nights in a row’ before he was found dead in his London flat, sums up the facts of the case quite succinctly. Moritz Erhardt, a 21-year-old University of Michigan student from Germany, was completing a seven-week internship at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch (“BAML”) for the summer, earning approximately £2,700 per month. Unfortunately, after a series of late nights at the office, Mr. Erhardt returned home for a shower and died.

According to the article, investment banking interns at BAML worked a minimum of 100 hours per week, with 110 hours per week being the average. That leaves 58 hours per week (or just over 8 hours per day) for all other human functions, including sleep. And while that certainly raises biological, psychological and social concerns, it also raises legal concerns, especially for an employer.

Here in Ontario, the Employment Standards Act, 2000 prescribes limits on hours of work and minimum wage, as follows:

  • The minimum wage for employees is $10.25 per hour.
  • Employers cannot require employees to work more than eight (8) hours per day without the employee’s consent.
  • Employers cannot require employees to work more than forty-eight (48) hours per week without the consent of a director of the Ministry of Labour.
  • Employers must give each employee a period of at least eleven (11) consecutive hours free from performing work in each day, and at least twenty-four (24) consecutive hours free from work in each work week (or forty-eight (48) consecutive hours free from work in every period of two consecutive work weeks).
  • Employers must give each employee an eating period of at least thirty (30) minutes at intervals that will result in the employee working no more than five (5) consecutive hours without an eating period.
  • Employees are eligible for overtime pay at a rate of 1.5 times base pay for each hour worked in excess of forty-four (44) hours in each work week.

While these limits do not apply to some regulated professionals (like lawyers and accountants), or to managerial personnel, they are otherwise universally applicable, notwithstanding the industry in which the employer operates.

For federally-regulated entities (such as banks, airlines, etc.) in Canada, the Canada Labour Code applies. It provides:

  • The minimum wage for employees is $10.25 per hour.
  • Employers cannot require employees to work more than eight (8) hours per day and more than forty (40) hours per week without the employee’s consent.
  • Employers cannot require employees to work more than forty-eight (48) hours per week.
  • Employees are eligible for overtime pay at a rate of 1.5 times base pay for each hour worked in excess of their standard hours of work.

Like the Employment Standards Act, 2000, the Canada Labour Code also contains exemptions from these general rules for certain classes of employees.

Failure to observe these minimum requirements, provincially or federally, can have significant consequences for employers, including prosecution under the offence provisions of the applicable legislation (carrying maximum penalties of up to $500,000 and $100,000, respectively) and class action litigation by employees and former employees seeking to claim their statutory entitlements. To avoid these consequences, employers should familiarize themselves with the applicable employment standards legislation, and consult legal counsel if the needs of their business require special consideration.