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Can I Fire Employees for Refusing to Work Overtime?

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By Christopher Coble, Esq. on July 23, 2015 10:40 AM

Employees should theoretically love overtime. They get paid time and a half or even double for the same amount of work.

However, people have lives outside of work, so even the most loyal employees may be hesitant to commit to extra work. If an employee refuses to work more than the standard eight hour day, do you have any recourse?

Can you fire an employee who refuses to work overtime?

At-Will Employment

The short answer is that, yes, you can fire an employee for refusing to work overtime. As long as the reason for firing an employee isn't discriminatory or retaliatory as prohibited by law, "at-will employment" means that you can fire your employee at any time for any reason.

In most cases, you are within your rights to fire an employee for refusing to work overtime. As is always the case with legal matters, however, there are certain exceptions.

New Jersey Health Care Workers

New Jersey's Mandatory Overtime Restrictions for Health Care Facilities prohibit requiring certain employees to work more than 40 hours per week against their will. If you do need employees to work overtime, you must first try to get volunteers to fill the extra hours.

Covered employers can only require employees to work overtime against their will as a last resort for unforeseeable emergencies, and you must allow employees up to one hour to arrange for care of children or elderly or disabled family members before they have to report for work.

A first violation of this law is punishable by a fine of $100-1,000 and imprisonment of 10-100 days.

California One Day Rest Rule

California does not have a law limiting overtime. However, sections 551 and 552 of the California Labor Code require employers to give employees one day of rest for every six days worked in a four week period.

Keeping Overtime Legal

Unless your employees have a contract that limits the number of overtime hours they have to work, you can require as much overtime as you want.

Just be sure to comply with all overtime pay laws. Federal law requires you to pay overtime if an employee works more than 40 hours per week. However, some states, like California, also require you to pay overtime if the employee works more than eight hours per day.

While working an employee 24 hours a day may be tempting, remember that tired employees are more likely to get injured. If your employees keep getting injured because they're exhausted, you could face a huge workers' compensation bill.

If you need help with other employment law issues, consult an experienced business attorney for help.

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