Q: Can employers compel their employees to work overtime in the run-up to Christmas?

A: If the contract of employment includes a clause requiring an employee to work overtime when required, then it will generally be reasonable to take disciplinary action if an employee refuses to do so.  In Edwards v Bramble Foods, an employee of a small food company was dismissed for gross misconduct, having refused to work overtime during the company’s busiest period, despite a clause in her contract requiring her to work extra hours when required. An employment tribunal found the dismissal to be fair and within the “range of reasonable responses”, not least because the consequences for the employer’s business of not dismissing her could have been “disastrous”.

The Working Time Regulations say that employees cannot work more than an average of 48 hours per week. The average is worked out over a 17 week reference period. It is, therefore important to check to see if there is a specific clause in the employment contracts you use which says the employee agrees to opt out of this 48-hour working time limit. But remember that the employee has the right to change their mind and give notice to that effect.

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