Management generally has the right to schedule overtime for employees. Labor contracts often control whether employees may be required to work overtime or whether employers can use alternatives to overtime. Sometimes employees can't be discharged for refusing to work overtime.

Management's Right to Schedule Overtime

Management can use overtime to complete a job or can hire someone else to complete the job. Employees can be asked to work a reasonable amount of overtime. However, union contracts often restrict the authority of management regarding overtime.

In order to determine whether an employee has the right to refuse overtime, the first question is whether the overtime system is mandatory or voluntary. The next questions to consider are whether a replacement is available and whether declining the overtime is based on hardship or inconvenience. Employees can be discharged for just cause if they refuse to work required overtime.

If the employee who's required to work overtime is a professional, such as a nurse, she may be required to work overtime after considering:

  • The opportunity to consult supervision
  • The availability of relief from the oncoming shift
  • Possible risk to the patient

Grievances often arise when management seeks an alternative to overtime by subcontracting, reassignment or using part-time employees at straight-time rates. Also when management requests that employees work overtime when they prefer not to. Economic conditions can cause a change in attitude towards overtime. In periods of recession, employees may want to work overtime hours. In good economic times, they may prefer leisure time instead. When employees file grievances about overtime, the parties' rights must be evaluated in light of the labor contracts.

Alternatives to Overtime

Unions sometimes challenge an employer's decision to subcontract or take other steps rather than schedule overtime. If controlling language is absent from the labor contract, arbitrators ask:

  • Did the affected employees lose any work?
  • Was a bargaining unit member displaced?
  • Were the affected employees already working overtime?
  • Would health and safety have been threatened by more overtime?

If overtime is not a realistic option, there are various alternatives to overtime, including:

  • Subcontracting
  • Reassignment of personnel
  • Changes in schedule
  • Part-time or temporary workers
  • Recalls from layoff

Employees' Refusal of Overtime

Management has the right to determine whether overtime is necessary, and, in the absence of contract language to the contrary, employees may be asked to work a reasonable amount of overtime. Failure to work required overtime may lead to a discharge.

Sometimes, however, employees can't be discharged for refusing to work overtime. For instance, an employee can't be required to work an unreasonable amount of overtime. A temporarily disabled employee can't be discharged for refusing to work overtime if the employer didn't make a reasonable accommodation of the employee's disability.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • How do I determine whether I have to work overtime at my job?
  • Are overtime requirements always covered by labor contracts?
  • Do I have to work overtime if I am pregnant?

Tagged as: Labor and Employment, Wage and Hour Law, mandatory overtime, labor lawyer