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Case law: Employer could dismiss employee who refused to do overtime in pre-Christmas period

An employer could fairly dismiss an employee who refused to do overtime in its busiest period in breach of her employment contract, and whose behaviour could have incited colleagues to refuse to do overtime, with potentially disastrous consequences, an Employment Tribunal has ruled.

Legal Alert

This update was published in Legal Alert - December 2016

Legal Alert is a monthly checklist from Atom Content Marketing highlighting new and pending laws, regulations, codes of practice and rulings that could have an impact on your business.

A company's busiest time of the year was an eight-week period beginning mid-September. Its employees' terms of employment required them to work extra hours when needed. The company wanted to change its overtime system and asked employees to choose four to eight Saturday mornings during the busy period when they would do overtime. One employee refused to work on Saturday mornings, saying she spent them with her husband.

The company discussed the reasons for the proposed changes with her informally. It said the new system would enable it to meet demand during its busiest period by sharing the work fairly between all employees.

She continued to refuse, and derided colleagues who had agreed to the new system, saying she would be having a lie-in while they were at work. Her fellow workers complained about her behaviour and her employer started disciplinary proceedings. Eventually, she was dismissed and she claimed unfair dismissal.

The employer argued that the employee's behaviour was spreading discontent among other employees. If she was not sanctioned it would encourage other employees to refuse to work Saturday mornings as well. This was a growing threat which would be disastrous for the business. Dismissal was therefore within the reasonable range of responses for an employer to take.

The Employment Tribunal agreed, saying: "…she had been given a contract of employment which said that she may be 'required' to work additional hours and she had no legitimate reason for refusing what she accepts was a reasonable management instruction. She just didn't want to do the work it seems. … Dismissal was unarguably within the range of reasonable responses to a very difficult situation…."

Operative date

  • Now


  • Employers whose busiest period is in the run-up to Christmas may be able to dismiss employees who refuse to do overtime in that period in breach of their contracts of employment, and who create discontent among the workforce, if that would be disastrous for their business

Case ref: Edwards v Bramble Foods Ltd ET/2601556/2015

Disclaimer: This article from Atom Content Marketing is for general guidance only, for businesses in the United Kingdom governed by the laws of England. Atom Content Marketing, expert contributors and ICAEW (as distributor) disclaim all liability for any errors or omissions.