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Can an employee be fired for refusing to work overtime?

| Dec 1, 2020 | Employment Law |

You’re at work, at the end of an eight-hour shift and a 40-hour workweek, when your boss comes up to your desk. They know that it’s Friday and you’re just looking forward to going home, but a major project did not get finished on time. They think that it has two or three more hours to go, and they want you to stay late.

Part of you is tempted. After all, you know that overtime laws mean that you will earn 1.5 times your normal rate for those extra hours. Plus, you’ve already earned your normal pay for the week, so everything you earn in overtime pay feels like extra. That’s a nice boost around the holidays.

In the end, though, you just want to get home to your family. You politely tell your boss that you’re going to decline the overtime hours and head home. That’s when things take a turn. Your boss tells you that this project is critical and that you’ll be fired if you refuse to do it. Is this legal?

You can get fired

It is legal under the overtime laws in Tennessee. It may feel like it should be up to you if you want to work late or not, but the reality is that most occupations do not have hourly time limits per week. Your boss is just required to pay you more for the extra hours. If they’re willing to do it, they can tell you that you have to stay, and they can fire you for refusing — just as they’d fire you for blatantly refusing most other requests at work.

There are some exceptions. For instance, truck drivers have hourly limits that they’re not allowed to break, and workers who have employment contracts may have different guarantees in those contracts than what is provided by the law. But, for the vast majority of workers in the state, a firing after an overtime request would not be illegal.

The process

As you can imagine, though, this process can get a bit contentious. It is important for both employers and employees to know exactly where they stand.