Many employees are surprised to learn that their employer can terminate their employees at will. At-will employment means that either party—the employer or the employee—can terminate the employment relationship at any time or for any reason so long as the reason isn’t illegal.
So, to answer the question posed above—yes, your employer can fire you for refusing to work overtime.
But is that the end of the story? Are there cases where you can fight back against being fired for refusing to work overtime? As it turns out, there are a few exceptions where you can refuse to work overtime and not worry about being fired.
However, before exploring those exceptions, it’s important to learn what happens when you refuse to work overtime.
What Happens if an Employee Refuses to Work Overtime?
Ultimately, whether or not your employer decides to fire you for refusing overtime depends on many factors, some of which boil down to your interpersonal relationship with those higher-ups who have power over your employment.
However, your employee classification—whether you are an exempt or a non-exempt employee—determines how much recourse you have to fight back against mandatory overtime.
Exempt Employees Who Refuse Overtime
“Exempt employee” is a designation under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Exempt employees do not have to be paid overtime for working more than 40 hours in a week. An employer may offer to pay exempt employees overtime, but they are not legally required to, which means they often do not.
Because an exempt employee has a fixed weekly income, the concept of “overtime” doesn’t really apply here. Instead of being asked to work overtime, exempt employees will simply be asked to work. An exempt employee is expected to be able to work more than 40 hours per week if required. If they refuse to work, their employer can fire them at will.
Non-exempt Employees Who Refuse Overtime
A “non-exempt employee” is another designation under the FLSA. This employee classification is entitled to the FLSA protections of minimum wage and overtime pay. Non-exempt employees are legally entitled to time-and-a-half compensation if they work more than 40 hours per week.
So, non-exempt employees are entitled to overtime pay, but can they refuse to work overtime? They can refuse, but their employer can also legally fire them for refusing. This is a consequence of at-will employment. An employer can fire an employee whenever they like, for whatever reason, and with no notice so long as the reasons for termination are not illegal.
Can My Boss Force Me to Work Overtime Without Notice?
Your employer can force you to work both mandatory overtime and unscheduled overtime. However, if you are a non-exempt employee, you are entitled to time-and-a-half pay for overtime hours worked.
There are situations in which an employer will purposefully misclassify their employees as independent contractors or grant them meaningless managerial titles and count them as exempt employees to avoid paying overtime.
However, there are situations where an employer cannot fire an employee for refusing to work overtime.
When Is It Illegal to Fire an Employee for Refusing to Work Overtime?
In most cases, an employer has the right to fire an employee at will for refusing to work overtime. Let’s explore the exceptions to that general rule.
- Employees can refuse to work overtime if their employment contract is not an at-will contract or if it specifically prohibits working overtime. However, most employment contracts are at-will and address the employer’s policies on overtime.
- Employees can refuse to work overtime if the overtime work would create a potential health and safety hazard for the employee or the employee’s coworkers.
- Employees can refuse overtime if they are already not being paid time-and-a-half for hours worked.
Here are a few situations in which an employee can refuse to work overtime:
Religious Accommodations for Employee Time Off
To prevent religious discrimination, your employer must make reasonable accommodations to help you observe the obligations of your religion. If you request time off for a religious holiday, your employer has to offer you a reasonable accommodation that satisfies your religious obligations and doesn’t cost the business undue hardship.
Your employer can make you work overtime, even on religious holidays, so long as they can prove that you not working would cause undue hardship to the business and your coworkers. However, if they didn’t offer you reasonable accommodations and cannot prove undue hardship, you can challenge having to work overtime based on the need to observe religious obligations.
The “One In Seven Law” for Employee Time Off
Many states have a so-called “one day of rest in seven” law which guarantees an entire 24-hour period off for every calendar week unless the employee is exempt. If you are scheduled for mandatory overtime in violation of the “one in seven” law, you can refuse to work overtime.
What Should I Do If My Employer Fired Me for Refusing to Work Overtime?
First things first, it’s essential that you familiarize yourself with your employment contract and your company’s policies on overtime. If you believe you were fired because of discrimination or retaliation, you may be able to file a wrongful termination suit against your employer.
We Stop Wage Theft Can Help
We Stop Wage Theft is dedicated to holding employers accountable when they deny fair wages to their employees. We arm employees with the knowledge and resources to get their due compensation.
If you have been wrongfully terminated for refusing to work overtime and believe the reasons were motivated by discrimination or retaliation, We Stop Wage Theft can help. Contact us today and we’ll review your claim and let you know whether you are eligible to participate in a class-action lawsuit.