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Federally regulated employees: When can a worker refuse to work overtime?

Employees in British Columbia who are federally regulated under the Canada Labour Code may be unaware that, under specific circumstances, they may refuse to work overtime. What are those circumstances? Based on the Code, family responsibilities may be enough reason to refuse to work overtime. However, the employee must take reasonable steps to attempt to make alternative arrangements that will enable him or her to work.

Examples of cases that may justify a claim of family responsibilities include the following:

  • a parent who sends several text messages to get another family member to collect his or her child from day care, without success;
  • an employee who is unable to arrange for a sibling to take their sick mother to a doctor's consultation; or
  • a mother whose child has kidney disease moved to the city to be closer to doctors and a hospital, but she has no one in the city to take the child for treatment every three days.

A case in which a father refuses to work overtime on a Saturday when his employer notifies him two days in advance may not have a valid family responsibility claim. Even if he had made arrangements to take his daughter, who had never been to a soccer stadium, to a game on that Saturday, a failure to show any efforts to make alternative arrangements means that his employer may not accept his excuse. Instead, the employer could notify the employee that he would face disciplinary action if he did not come to work on that Saturday.

Employers in British Columbia who are accused of taking improper disciplinary action against an employee who refused to work overtime may need legal counsel. A lawyer with experience in labour and employment law can assess the details of the case and explain the available legal options, as well as advocate for the client throughout any ensuing legal proceedings.

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