Pay an Employee or Call it “Volunteering”?

Get your co-workers together for a team-building activity!”…sounds inviting enough doesn’t it? But is it truly a volunteer team building activity if you are asked to work without pay alongside another employee who does this work as their paid job? It’s murky at best.

This is exactly what seems to have almost happened at Urban Outfitters where employees received an e-mail (subsequently obtained by Gawker) asking them to “volunteer” at the company’s fulfillment center during the “busiest month yet”.

In follow up correspondence from Urban Outfitters, the company said:

“Many hourly employees also offered to pitch in – an offer which we appreciated, but declined in order to ensure full compliance with all applicable labor laws and regulations.”

Employees who work well together are more productive – this has been shown time and time again to be the case. That is why I’m often asked to conduct team building workshops and for assistance with making groups more productive. While there are no magic bullets, there are many options and approaches to foster positive rapport between employees. However, the approach taken by Urban Outfitters is not one of them.

In Canada, whether the employee is paid hourly or is salaried, legislated employment standards and labour codes dictate that time required by an employer must be compensated. (Unionized employees are exceptions if they have alternate arrangements included in their collective agreements.) Compensation for hours worked beyond the employee’s contracted hours are to be compensated at the employee’s regular rate up to the number of hours the province/territory requires overtime pay to apply. See the below chart at the end of this article.

If you’re looking for ideas on how to motivate employees, team building sessions are great.  And yes, volunteer events can certainly be an effective part of your employee engagement strategy. But if your employees want to volunteer for your organization, redirect them to an outside organization. This will keep boundaries and expectations clear for all. If you are interested in a team-building event, there are lots of charities that will happily accept your contributions!


Overtime Pay (“Time” indicates the employee’s regular rate of pay is to be applied)
PEI Time + 1/2 after 48 hours in a week
Nova Scotia Time + ½ over 48 hours in a week

Not less than minimum wage + 1/2 after 48 hours in a week[i]

New Brunswick Not less than minimum wage + 1/2 after 44 hours in a week[ii]
Newfoundland & Labrador Not less than minimum wage + 1/2 after 40 hours in a week[iii]
Quebec Time + 1/2 after 40 hours in a week
Ontario Time + 1/2 after 44 hours in a week
Manitoba Time + 1/2 after 8 hours a day or 40 hours in a week
Saskatchewan Time + 1/2 after 8 hours a day or 40 hours in a week
Alberta Time + 1/2 after 8 hours a day or 44 hours in a week
BC Daily: Time + 1/2 after 8 hours, double-time after 12 hours
Weekly: Time + 1/2 after 40 hours
Yukon Time + 1/2 after 8 hours a day or 40 hours in a week
NWT Time + 1/2 after 8 hours a day or 40 hours in a week
Nunavut Time + 1/2 after 8 hours a day or 40 hours in a week
Federal Time + 1/2 after 8 hours a day or 40 hours in a week

Source:; employment legislation from various provinces

Check your jurisdiction’s legislation closely as information may have changed since the time this article was written.


[i] Nova Scotia Labor Code “What are the overtime rules for managers and supervisors? In general, managers and supervisors are entitled to overtime at 1 ½ times the minimum wage, after 48 hours worked in a week.”

[ii] New Brunswick Employment Standards Act, section 16 “…the employer must remunerate an employee who works beyond the maximum number of hours fixed at a rate which may not be less than one and a half times this minimum rate.”

[iii] Newfoundland and Labrador Labour Standards Act Additionally: “Where an employee agrees with one or more other employees to a change in their work schedule and the employer of the employee grants the employee, after the employee has requested in writing to do so, a change in the employee’s work schedule that results in the employee working in excess of the standard working hours as permitted by this Part, the employer is not required to pay the employee the rate of wages for overtime set by the regulations.”