Can Employees Say No to Overworking?

COVID has brought about a lot of changes especially in the workplace. For many remote working has been the ‘new normal’ providing positives such as flexibility, safety for staff during the pandemic and extra family-time. However, on the flipside it also has meant the lines between work and home have become blurred with extra hours and meetings sneaking into ‘personal’ time. 

This can lead to heightened stress levels and serious burnout. On top of this, some employees are becoming fearful of losing their job due to economic uncertainty. Therefore, an employee may feel helpless and feel obliged to work harder and longer hours without extra remuneration. But what are employers and employees’ rights when it comes to working extra hours? What is considered reasonable in terms of overtime? Can staff say ‘no’ when work gets too much?

Don’t stay silent

It’s important to voice your feelings and we would always suggest as a first step that an employee speaks to their employer opening up a conversation. Set out each other’s needs, concerns and see if a compromise can be reached amicably – this should be documented and monitored. Keeping open dialogue and good communication usually makes it easier to overcome most concerns.

Understand your employment conditions  

If the above is not possible then the employee should look to their employment contract and the employer’s staff handbook (if there is one). This will help to understand any restrictions placed upon them, whether they opted out of the Working Time Regulations or agreed overtime, what processes are in place for flexible working and if necessary, what the grievance process is.

If the documents are silent then the employee should revert to the statutory employment rights available to all employees in the UK, subject to certain eligibility and criteria.

The Working time regulations 1998

The Working Time Regulations prevents employees working more than 48 hours a week. If you have opted out of this protection, in writing in your employment contract, an employer can request additional hours paid/unpaid as per those terms. If you wish to withdraw opting out of this protection you must serve notice in line with your contract and then you are able to reject future overtime requests. If your overtime is clear in the contract or you have opted out and you are being asked to work overtime in line with these provisions you have no legal basis to refuse.

Reasonable overtime hours

Regardless of what your contract stipulates or whether you’ve opted out you cannot be forced to work 24 hours, seven days a week -so how does the law determine what is reasonable? If you do not opt out the law sees working over and above 48 hours unlawful. If you voluntarily work above this and have opted out, then the hours must not exceed such that you will be paid less than the minimum wage. If you are not getting sufficient lawful breaks then it is not permitted – overall anything above 60 hrs would be questionable. As a guide since employees are entitled to 20 minutes break for every six hours worked, there should be 11 hours between working days and at least 24hrs every week provided or 48hrs every fortnight. There are exceptions to the rules, but this generally applies.

Too much work

If you haven’t been asked to work overtime but have asked to carry out more work that is reasonably practical within your given hours this is an issue of capacity. Employee should set out how it’s impossible to complete the work provided in the time afforded; they should detail their hours worked and provide any evidence to support the challenges or health issues it is causing or caused. We would recommend communicating with your manager in the first place to outline your concerns to see if you can work together to address the issue, otherwise a grievance maybe required to address the imbalance. But if the problem continues or if you find yourself quitting a job as a result of employer bias, consider filing a formal complaint to address the problem.

Unfair treatment 

If you are concerned that you are being discriminated against or you have concerns about your health or you have a disability, then you should raise these issues with your employer as you may have protection under the Equality Act or you can consult a disability lawyer or a disability insurance lawyer like these disability attorneys practicing in Charlotte to help you legally. An experienced social security disability lawyer can also help you fight back against unfair disability insurance benefit denials from major disability insurance companies. But again, communication is key as the employer cannot assist you or reduce your hours if they’re unaware of any potential health issues or concerns. If you are treated discriminatory or reasonable adjustments are not made for a disability, for example, then you will have protection and have the right to issue a grievance or even consider constructive dismissal.

Turning down overtime 

Overall, as a general rule if the contract does not permit overtime they can refuse as this is an offer requiring consent; if the contract stipulates overtime is to be paid for then an employer must pay for this additional time; if the employer is permitted to request overtime in the contract and the employer does not wish to undertake it then they should speak to their manager setting out their reasons.

We remind all employees to first look at their contract and staff handbooks as a guide to the processes and protections available to them. Communication is key and a conversation with your line manager or HR may assist you reach a compromise. Speak out and document your complaints so that the employer not only understands these but has the opportunity to address them. If this fails and you have reason to believe you been discriminated against or you are suffering with a disability or ill-health put your grievance in writing and follow your employers process and seek advice not only from your GP but also an employment specialist to help guide you through the process.

By: Karen Holden, CEO of A City Law Firm