Overtime: Make your expectations clear from the start

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Overtime: Make your expectations clear from the start

Is your business seasonal? Does demand fluctuate, so you need to expect more from your team at some points in the cycle from others and ask for overtime? Is the run-up to Christmas, for instance, particularly critical?

In which case, of course, it makes sense to formalise that and be upfront about any overtime from the start.

One recent example also suggests that might offer you protection in case of dispute. This we picked up from our Legal Alert this December.

Expected overtime

The dispute was between an employer – who’d written into their contracts that staff would be expected to work overtime during busy periods – and an employee, who’d signed that contract, but then refused, when required, to work Saturdays.

‘A company’s busiest time of the year’, reads the Alert, ‘was an eight-week period beginning mid-September. Its employees’ terms of employment required them to work extra hours when needed.’

So far so good. But then things got more complicated.

‘The company wanted to change its overtime system and asked employees to choose four to eight Saturday mornings during the busy period when they would do overtime.’

Unfortunately, one employee wasn’t up for this, according to the Legal Alert. And what’s more, she tried to dissuade others too.

Impact on others

Having discussed this informally with her, and got nowhere, according to this account, the employer also faced complaints from other employees about the impact her behaviour was having on them.

‘Her fellow workers complained about her behaviour and her employer started disciplinary proceedings. Eventually, she was dismissed and she claimed unfair dismissal.’

Here was the employer’s argument – which the employment tribunal then upheld.

‘The employer argued that the employee’s behaviour was spreading discontent among other employees. If she was not sanctioned it would encourage other employees to refuse to work Saturday mornings as well. This was a growing threat which would be disastrous for the business. Dismissal’, they concluded, ‘was therefore within the reasonable range of responses for an employer to take.’

The tribunal endorsed the employer’s decision, saying ‘she had been given a contract of employment which said that she may be ‘required’ to work additional hours and she had no legitimate reason for refusing…’

So that seems to be the key. State clearly upfront what you expect, and people can’t argue they weren’t warned.

See the full Legal Alert account here.

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