Bramble Foods Ltd (the Company) generates a third of its total
annual turnover in the eight weeks from mid-September onwards, in
the lead-up to Christmas. As this is its busiest period, its
employees are expected to work additional hours. Their contracts
include a clause that requires them to "work such further
hours as may be reasonably necessary to fulfil [their] duties or
the needs of the business". In 2014, the Company formalised
its overtime arrangements by asking its employees to select between
four to eight shifts, lasting four hours, on Saturday mornings in
September and October when the Company would be producing its gift
packs and hampers ready for Christmas. The Company adopted the same
arrangement the following year. However, Mrs Edwards refused to
sign up to the additional shifts, despite all of her colleagues
doing so. Following a number of informal discussions, the Company
dismissed Mrs Edwards. Its primary concern was that her colleagues
would revoke their agreement to work overtime if the Company was
seen to excuse Mrs Edwards. Mrs Edwards brought a claim for unfair
dismissal as a result.
Whilst it accepted that there were minor flaws in the
Company's process, the Tribunal held that "dismissal was
inarguably within the range of reasonable responses" as Mrs
Edwards' excuse that she spends Saturday mornings with her
husband was not a legitimate one. The Tribunal considered that her
refusal to work the overtime as requested had the potential to
disrupt the whole business.
Many employers will be expected to meet tighter deadlines under
a greater workload in the lead-up to Christmas. While this is only
a first instance decision (and therefore not binding on other
tribunals), it is helpful in highlighting what amounts to a
reasonable request with regards to overtime. Of course, employers
cannot expect their employees to agree to work overtime where they
are contracted to work fixed hours and there is no clause (as
above) which requires them to work more hours to meet the demands
of the business. To avoid facing the same issues as in this case
and to mitigate any risk of being short-staffed this Christmas,
follow our top tips below:
Request that employees sign
up to overtime as far in advance as possible – this
will allow employees to plan around extended working hours as
Offer employees an incentive
to sign up to the extra hours – for example,
increased pay for any overtime worked, or a free breakfast or
dinner if the employee is working particularly unsociable
Ensure employees are given
adequate rest breaks throughout the working day –
this is especially important where an employee is working
Where possible, try to
schedule a day with reduced hours (or even better, a day off) for
an employee who has worked overtime the previous day
– this will ensure that the employee does not feel overworked
and is more likely to sign up for more hours on another day;
Take account of
employees' religious beliefs – not all employees
will celebrate Christmas and may not mind working Christmas Eve or
Christmas Day where required. Conversely, employees who do
celebrate Christmas for religious purposes should be given enough
flexibility to take time off at this time. Equally, employees who
observe other religions should be offered the same flexibility when
requesting time off to celebrate their religious events throughout
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