The Rugg-Ryan Case: A Potential Game-Changer for Reasonable Working Hours in Australia

The ongoing case between former chief of staff Sally Rugg and independent MP Monique Ryan could set a precedent for what constitutes reasonable working hours in Australia. The core allegation in Ms Rugg’s unfair dismissal claim is that she was constructively dismissed for refusing to work “unreasonable hours” of more than 70 hours a week. The case raises the question of whether an employee can be asked to work additional hours and whether they can refuse to do so even when they are being paid appropriately.

The concept of reasonable working hours is likely to be tested by the Court if this matter proceeds. Previously, the question was whether someone was being paid adequately for the additional hours they were required to work, now the question is whether an employee can be asked to work additional hours at all.

Stuart Wood KC, a leading silk, has made comment recently that the outcome of this case is likely to have far-reaching effects. He stated that the likelihood of further test cases around what are ‘reasonable hours’ from other professional groups where 70-80 hour weeks are the norm is high. This flow-on effect has already started with the Finance Sector Union launching a test case against NAB over alleged unreasonable additional working hours at the start of March.

We anticipate that the question of what is ‘reasonable hours’ is likely to remain a very topical area of contention for the near future, and we recommend employers review their employment contracts and policies around the expectation of additional hours and overtime to avoid running into any issues.

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