What Happens When Employees Refuse to Work Christmas Overtime?

Christmas can be a difficult time of year for staffing levels, what with increases in sickness absence, mounds of holiday requests and the odd suspicious absence. All of these factors together can be further compounded by increasing patient demand over the winter months.

When things start to get difficult, it’s often the case that everyone pitches in to meet the challenge and work some extra hours. But what happens in that moment when a member of staff refuses to work Christmas overtime? A recent case has shed some light on this issue.

Edwards v Bramble Foods Ltd

The organisation, a small food producer, had its busiest time of year leading up to the Christmas and New Year festivities. The employee’s contract had a specific clause requiring employees to work extra hours when the business required them to. The company later attempted to introduce an overtime rota system to provide some structure to the necessary extra work over the festive period.

One employee, Mrs Edwards, refused to work any of the Saturdays she had been scheduled to come in, stating that this was her family time. After numerous informal discussions, Mrs Edwards continued to refuse and complaints were submitted her by colleagues about her behaviour after she mocked those who had agreed to work the overtime. Shortly afterwards she was dismissed.

The employer’s justifications for the dismissal included the risk of her behaviour spreading discontent amongst her colleagues and others also withdrawing their agreement to work on weekends, which could compromise the company’s ability to meet the customer demands.

Mrs Edwards claimed unfair dismissal, and although it was recognised the organisation had a few procedural flaws in the process they applied, it was deemed that the dismissal was fair, failing into the famous ‘range of reasonable responses’.

The tribunal considered the following factors:

  • There was no legitimate reason for Mrs Smith refusing to do the overtime
  • The consequences to the employer could have been disastrous
  • The contract was quite specific as to the requirement for additional hours to be worked
  • It was a reasonable management instruction

In what will be a relief to employers, this judgement shows that where contracts permit, it is possible to enforce overtime in times of need.

Enforcing such arrangements should be quite straightforward unless there is a reasonable justification that means the employee cannot work, e.g. an acceptable reason for work absence such as child care, or the requirement indirectly discriminates against groups with protected characteristics such as religious requirements. Managing morale is another matter altogether, but a positive attitude can go a long way to having a workforce that is keen to pull together.

Award-winning primary care trainers Thornfields offer a course in Employment & Contractual Responsibilities. Plus, FPM members can contact our advice line with HR-related queries via the button in the FPM Core system.

Created by Ciara Burns
Ciara Burns
Ciara is the HR Consultant at FPM Group who writes and produces content on a wide range of topics such as HR best practices, employment law, recruitment, policies, and procedures.


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