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Managing employee overtime and employees who refuse to work overtime at Christmas

Christmas is an extremely busy time for many employers.  It can be a question of “all hands to the pump” and it’s therefore crucial that you’re able to rely on your employees working extra hours when required.  Often, this means asking employees to work overtime at short notice. But what should you do with employees who refuse to work overtime at Christmas?

The recent case of Edwards v Bramble Foods Ltd gives some hope to employers.  The company produce gift packs and hampers and the eight week run up to Christmas is its busiest period.  The employees had a contractual clause that required them to work additional hours to meet the needs of the business if necessary.

In June 2015, employees were provided with a form on which they were to indicate their willingness to work from four to eight Saturday mornings between September and October 2015.  All the employees returned the form agreeing to work a minimum of four mornings apart from two employees, one of which later agreed to work the overtime.  The remaining employee, Mrs Edwards, wrote of the form “none”.

Mrs Edwards had a number of informal meetings with management during which it was explained that all the other staff had agreed to work overtime and that by sharing the workload they would be able to meet the demands of the busy period.

Mrs Edwards’ response was that she spent Saturday mornings with her husband.

Following this, Mrs Edwards’ behaviour reportedly became progressively more disruptive. The evidence suggests that she began shouting and swearing and a number of colleagues asked to be moved away from her because of her “constant talk about Saturdays and her swearing”.

The employer said that it got so bad that in August 2015 they had to send her home for three days and told to calm down and return with a better attitude.  However, in September, another employee raised a grievance alleging that Mrs Edwards was mocking those who had agreed to work overtime which included her saying that she would be having a lie in whilst they were working.

Perhaps unsurprisingly around 30 employees now threatened to pull out from working Saturdays if Mrs Edwards didn’t have to.

A more formal meeting with Mrs Edwards took place towards the end of September 2015 in which she was told that if she persisted in her stance of refusing to work Saturdays, it could result in her dismissal.

A formal disciplinary hearing took place in October 2015 in which Mrs Edwards maintained her stance of refusing to work on Saturdays.  She was dismissed for gross misconduct.  She subsequently claimed unfair dismissal.

The tribunal found in favour of the employer:  it was reasonable for the Company to require Mrs Edwards to do overtime as per her contract of employment and Mrs Edwards had no legitimate reason for refusing.

This case highlights the need for a well drafted contractual clause if you want to insist that your employees work overtime. However, keep in mind the recent cases in relation to holiday pay and overtime which we have summarised in our article: How Overtime Affects Holiday Pay

If this article has raised any potential issues for your business, please don’t hesitate to contact us on 01271 859 539.