Can You be Forced to Work Overtime? Is it OK to Refuse to Exceed Contracted Hours?

Being expected to consistently work extra hours can be a lot of pressure, whether it’s paid or unpaid. But can you be forced to work overtime without your agreement? The short answer is that it’s not mandatory unless you agreed to it when you signed your contract of employment.

However, even if your contract of employment does stipulate you will be required to work overtime, there are regulations around working hours and breaks your employer must follow.

Our guide looks at when you can (and can’t!) be required to work overtime by your employer. The first step if you want to understand your own situation is to read your contract of employment.

Contracted Working Hours & Overtime

The first step to take when being asked to work overtime is to check your employment contract.

Your contract will outline everything you need to know about expectations in the workplace. There will be a section in it regarding contracted hours. You are obliged to work the hours laid out in your contract of employment.

There may also be a clause that says something like, “reasonable overtime may from time to time be required, in accordance with the needs of the business.”

What is Reasonable Overtime?

Your employer should have clear policies in place about overtime, including how it’s requested, and if additional payment or extra holidays in the form of time in lieu will be due.

However, it may not be reasonable for your employer to insist you work overtime during hours that interfere with care responsibilities. This can include childcare, or looking after an elderly family member.

Similarly, if a disability affects the ability to work extra hours it may not be reasonable for your employer to expect overtime.

The TUC points out that an employer insisting on overtime in the face of these types of restrictions may be guilty of indirect discrimination, leaving them open to being taken to an Employment Tribunal.

Compulsory Overtime

When a contract states that overtime is compulsory, then it means that you must work additional hours when your employer requests it.

You may see this contract clause referred to in your contract in terms such as “working extra hours to meet business needs” or “whatever hours are necessary to complete your work”.

If you don’t work the overtime you agreed, your employer may take disciplinary action against you. However, it is best practise for employers to have very specific overtime policies in place. It’s poor practise for employers to rely on this type of contract clause to require regular overtime.

If you have issues with being asked to work too much overtime, discuss it with HR or your manager.

Can Employees Refuse to Work Over Contracted Hours?

If overtime is not agreed as part of the contract of employment, then employees aren’t obligated to work additional hours.

You can tell your employer that you are only willing to work your contracted hours. Of course, your employer may request a change in your employment contract which you will have to negotiate with them.

See Also: Can my employer change my working hours without asking?

Can You be Fired for Refusing to Work Overtime?

Whether or not you can be fired for refusing to work overtime again comes down to the terms of your employment.

You must read your contract carefully before refusing to work extra hours. If it is part of your work agreement and you refuse, you may be in breach of your contract. This can lead to disciplinary action and dismissal.

Case Law – Fair Dismissal of Employee Who Refused to Work Overtime

Edwards vs Bramble Foods – 2015

An employment tribunal ruled it was fair to sack a worker who had refused to work overtime on Saturdays during a peak season (Christmas) for her employer, which produced hampers.

Mrs Edwards’ work contract contained a clause stating she might be required to work additional hours when business needs dicatated.

Mrs Edwards was the only employee who refused to work the overtime. This was because she wanted to spend time with her husband on a Saturday. She also boasted to other employees about having lie ins while they worked. This led to complaints about her conduct. Her employer took disciplinary action, and dismissed her.

The reason her dismissal was found to be fair was that the overtime request was deemed a reasonable management instruction. It was also found she had no grounds to refuse the request.

Read more on the case in the Belfast Telegraph.

See Also: Working Weekends Law UK – for more information on whether you can refuse to work a Saturday or Sunday.

Overtime Laws UK

Employers must tread very carefully when they ask or expect their employees to work overtime. An overtime clause in a work contract can never override statutory rights under UK employment laws.

If your contract specifically says you are expected to work overtime then you are legally required to. However, employers still have some laws to follow to ensure they do not breach any regulations.

Working Time Regulations

UK working time regulations need to be adhered to, even with overtime taken into account.

This means employees over 18 years old, as set out in UK law, must not work over 48 hours per week. This is based on an average total taken over 17 weeks.

You can opt out of this limit by signing an agreement to work more hours. Some occupations are exempt from the working time regulations, such as doctors and paramedics.

Overtime Pay

It might come as a rather nasty surprise to learn that employers do not legally have to pay their staff for any overtime they work.

This can seem incredibly unfair and, in most cases, employers do pay for overtime. It then becomes mutually beneficial to all parties involved.

Again, the contract of employment will detail the pay arrangements for any overtime that is worked. Some employers may offer time off in lieu as an incentive.

So, instead of being paid, you accrue the hours you work overtime as a holiday. Some employers offer a higher rate of pay for extra hours, over and above those that are contracted.

See Also: Working Unpaid Overtime – UK Law.

Minimum Wage Regulations

Employers must ensure that they do not inadvertently breach minimum wage regulations when requiring unpaid overtime.

An employee may discover they are paid below the national minimum wage for the number of hours they have worked when compared to their salary. When this is the case, they have a right to make a complaint.

This is a direct breach of UK employment law and there would be cause for filing a formal complaint. This could result in a tribunal where the employer would be ordered to pay additional wages. They may also face a fine for breaching minimum wage regulations.

Overtime & Holiday Pay

When employers pay for overtime, this extra wage must be reflected in holiday pay calculations.

This is based on the EU Working Time Directive which takes the holiday period as 4 weeks for any given year. This means, by law, employers must include regular overtime payments in 4 weeks of holiday per year.

If staff get more holidays than this then there is no statutory requirement for overtime to be added to anything above the 4 weeks.

ACAS offers information on understanding how overtime affects holiday pay.

Part Time Workers & Overtime

Part time workers are any employee who works less than full time employees within the same company as themselves.

By law, overtime does not need to be paid to part time staff until the hours exceed that of the full time staff. Again though, this comes down to individual company policy so it is always worth reading your contract.

There is no legal minimum to what classes as part and full time hours so this again, comes down to the workplace.

Further Reading

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