Can you force extra work on an employee?

When Carpenter I Joe Hillman, age 64, came down with the flu, Maintenance Foreman Harold Braxton informed Carpenter I Chuck Danowski he would have to "take up the slack" while Joe was out.
By Raymond Dreyfack June 1, 1998

When Carpenter I Joe Hillman, age 64, came down with the flu, Maintenance Foreman Harold Braxton informed Carpenter I Chuck Danowski he would have to “take up the slack” while Joe was out. Danowski wasn’t thrilled with the news, but he didn’t object.

An above-average performer, Danowski worked hard and diligently to handle the extra workload without falling behind schedule. But when Hillman’s absence stretched from two weeks to three he felt put upon. “I’m busting a gut to keep up,” he complained to Braxton. “How long is this double workload going to continue?”

Braxton brushed off the gripe. “Joe should be back to work pretty soon.”

Hillman didn’t return; he opted instead for early retirement. Still there was no sign that Braxton intended to reduce his workload.

“When are you gonna hire a replacement for Joe?” he asked his boss.

“I’ll get around to it one of these days.”

Danowski held his temper in check till the end of the week, then brought his gripe to Shop Steward Steven Swensen, who broached the complaint to the foreman.

“What’s going on here?” he demanded. “Since when can you respond to a resignation by inflicting a double workload on an employee?”

“Danowski’s blowing this up all out of proportion,” Braxton replied. “What he calls a double workload is no more than a few extra jobs that take up the slack in his own workload. Proof is that he’s been handling the extra work without any overtime. Check it out for yourself.”

“Because he knows how you feel about overtime, and has been breaking his back to stay on schedule,” said Swenson.

Braxton shrugged. “The company is entitled to 8-hr work for 8-hr pay. That’s what Danowski’s giving, and that’s what he’s getting.”

Swenson threatened a grievance as Danowski walked off.

Question : Can the company be forced to lighten the carpenter’s extra workload?

Polichek’s verdict: “Take on a replacement for Joe Hillman,” Plant Engineer Frank Polichek instructed Braxton when brought up-to-date on the controversy. “Unless you can prove through documentation that Danowski’s extra duties bring his workload up to par with the rest of the crew, a case can be made that he’s functioning under undue and unfair hardship. A worker shouldn’t be forced to exceed normal standards simply because he’s a superior employee who doesn’t buckle under the strain.”