Mandatory overtime is involuntary overtime in which the employer demands employees work hours above the standard work week. The typical work week often consists of 40 hours, and any hours beyond that are considered overtime. Some employees welcome the opportunity to volunteer to work extra hours to earn additional income. When employees are forced to work or else face job loss, then it’s no longer a voluntary act. National and regional laws often do not prohibit employers from demanding required overtime, except for young workers, such as those younger than age 16.
Employees can limit or avoid mandatory overtime in contractual agreements that they sign with employers. Employment law allows employers and employees to agree to the terms of the employment in a written contract, and one of those terms can pertain to work hour limits and overtime pay. For example, an employee can agree to work a standard work week and no more unless he or she voluntarily offers to do so or outright refuse required overtime that the employer might demand. Other contractual agreements include collective bargaining agreements between employers and unions. In those agreements, the contract pertains to all employees who are union members, and the employer may agree to waive any mandatory overtime requirements for union employees.
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Employees who are not under contract are often at-will employees in some countries. That means that they can be fired at any time for any reason, except for discrimination. One of the reasons is sometimes due to an employee refusing overtime that is mandatory. The employer may fire the employee or demote him or her. Employers can force salaried employees to comply with mandatory overtime if they are exempt from receiving overtime pay, according to employment laws. These employees may have a legal course of action if working overtime becomes the norm, such as when the employer refuses to hire replacement workers.
Some regions have placed restrictions on mandatory overtime based on the profession in order to protect the public. For example, some regional laws limit mandatory overtime for nurses as protection for patients. The rationale is that an overworked and tired nurse is more likely to make mistakes in caring for patients and giving medications. Similar laws are being proposed on a national level in countries like the United States to protect patients from medical errors because of nurse fatigue. Other professions with similar issues include truck drivers, emergency workers, and law enforcement.