Can an employee refuse to work overtime?

Carpenter First Grade Jim Arthur was building a rig for the production department. At 3:00 p.m., Maintenance Supervisor Bill Creed passed by and asked, "How are you doing with that rig?" "It's going pretty well so far.
By Raymond Dreyfack January 1, 1999

Carpenter First Grade Jim Arthur was building a rig for the production department. At 3:00 p.m., Maintenance Supervisor Bill Creed passed by and asked, “How are you doing with that rig?”

“It’s going pretty well so far. With no problems, I should finish it by noon tomorrow.”

“That’s not good enough. They need that rig first thing in the morning.”

“No way! I’m not a magician. That is impossible for anyone!” Arthur insisted.

Creed said, “I’m sorry, Jim, but you’re gonna have to work overtime until it’s finished.”

“I can’t; my back’s killing me. Get somebody else.”

“You’re the only carpenter on hand. Listen, this job is urgent. Take a couple of aspirins.”

“I already did. They didn’t help much.”

“I’m going to have to insist on that overtime. If the rig isn’t finished, an important order will be delayed.”

When Arthur persisted in his refusal, the supervisor threatened a 3-day suspension for failure to follow an order.

“I can’t work overtime when I’m in pain. If you suspend me, I’ll file a grievance.”

Question: If the worker is suspended, can Creed make the discipline stick?

Warner’s verdict: When Plant Engineer Bob Warner disapproved the suspension, Creed groused that Arthur was probably shamming.

“If you felt so,” Warner said, “the first thing you should have done was sent him to the medical office. But more important than that is the reality that Arthur’s personnel record is better than average. He rarely if ever refused to work overtime in the past. And I see no reason to assume he is faking illness this time. While it’s true that management has a reasonable right to insist on overtime when it’s needed, in this case proving reasonableness might be difficult to do, not to mention the adverse effect on employee morale.”