Forced to Work Mandatory Overtime
As your boss continues to demand that you punch the clock later and later each evening, do you sometimes ask yourself, “Whatever happened to the 40-hour workweek?” After all, you may have a family. You’ve got things to do. Heck, you’ve got a life!
You’re not the only one. More than one in five workers in the U.S. is forced to work overtime (anything beyond 40 hours) – and the practice is on the rise.
Unfortunately, there is more at stake here than lack of quality time with your dog and remote control. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) warns that extended work shifts “may be more stressful physically, mentally, and emotionally,” and studies show that working overtime increases the likelihood for on-the-job injuries by 61 percent.
What to do about mandatory overtime
Unfortunately, there is no law against mandatory overtime.1 So what can you do?
- Talk to co-workers: See if your fellow employees are also suffering from the effects of overtime-induced fatigue. If you approach your employer about the issue, it is often easier and more effective to do so as a group.
- Discuss it with your employer: Many employers are unaware that mandatory overtime can reduce efficiency, increase the risk of injury, and place unnecessary burdens on employees. Let your employer know that you would prefer to not work excessive overtime.
- Check your contract: If you are a union member, check with your steward or business agent about whether there is overtime language in your contract. Since federal and state law is mostly silent on this subject, a union contract is often the most effective avenue to address mandatory overtime.
- Check with a labor lawyer: In certain, limited cases, you may have legal grounds for challenging mandatory overtime. If you have a disability and are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, limits on overtime could be part of the “reasonable accommodations” for your condition that are required by law. Or if there is intimidation or coercion involved in getting you to work overtime, you may have grounds to challenge your employer.
- Take care of yourself: Since, in most cases, your employer can assign mandatory overtime, it is important to do what you can to limit your stress and fatigue. OSHA recommends doing your most difficult tasks early in the shift and making use of all scheduled breaks – even “microbreaks” can help.
- What not to do: Unless you feel your health is at risk or you are willing to risk your job, don’t refuse mandatory overtime. Refusal can be grounds for firing you.
Since overwork can cause dangerous fatigue, it’s important to know the symptoms, as described by OSHA:
- reduced alertness; lack of concentration and memory
1The only exceptions to this rule are for workers under the age of 16 (they are not allowed to work more than 40 hours a week by federal law) and for nurses in some states.
- lack of motivation
- increased susceptibility to illness
- loss of appetite and digestive problems