You can demand that staff work overtime, but be consistent

If your organization hits a busy time and needs employees to work long hours, don’t hesitate to require everyone to pitch in. Federal rules allow you to require nonexempt employees to work overtime, so long as you pay them time-and-a-half for hours worked above 40 in a week.

You can terminate employees who refuse to work overtime unless they can show a legitimate legal reason for the refusal. That can include taking FMLA or military leave, or needing to reduce hours as an ADA disability accommodation. Child care problems are not a legitimate reason to refuse OT.

Recent case: Kelly Economos worked for the Scotts Company as a dispatcher. During the spring busy period, the Scotts Company required employees to work far more than 40 hours per week, typically 55 or more.

Economos had young children and couldn’t make child care arrangements beyond her normal 40-hour schedule. So she refused to work the 55-hour schedule the company gave her. Scotts fired her and she sued, alleging sex discrimination. But the court tossed the case because she couldn’t show that males were given a break on mandatory overtime. (Economos v. The Scotts Company, No. 05-271, ED PA, 2006)

Final note: Had Scotts allowed Economos to skip overtime, a male employee could have filed a sex discrimination lawsuit. That’s why it’s vital to apply the mandatory OT rules to everyone unless they have a legally covered reason.  

FLSA Compliance D

6 ways to avoid employees’ gripes about mandatory overtime

  1. Make clear during the hiring process that overtime can and will be mandated.
  2. Draft an overtime policy that explains when overtime will be required. Document exceptions when employees can refuse overtime, such as illness or a death in the family. If you’re flexible on the exceptions, prepare to be consistent with requests. Train supervisors on when to say “Yes” and “No.”
  3. Have employees sign a statement that says they understand the policy.
  4. Require supervisors to give as much advance notice as possible to employees when they know they’ll need overtime help.
  5. Ask for volunteers first before assigning mandatory overtime.
  6. Follow the ADA and FMLA. Allow employees with documented disabilities to opt out of overtime as an accommodation, and allow FMLA leave for serious health conditions and other FMLA-covered situations.

Final tip: Check your state overtime law, too; some set tighter restrictions. Find a description of all state wage laws at