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Fair dismissal of employee who refused to work Christmas overtime

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An employment tribunal held that a food company employee was fairly dismissed after she refused to work overtime in the run-up to Christmas.

In Edwards v Bramble Foods Ltd, the Tribunal ruled that the claimant’s protests at being asked to work extra hours threatened to disrupt the business.

The employee’s contract of employment included a clause requiring her to work extra hours when the business requires.

The Court heard that the business’s busiest period is during the eight weeks from mid-September when it produces and packs goods such as gifts and hampers for Christmas.

As a result, the firm decided to formalise its overtime arrangements, which involved asking employees to choose between four and eight Saturday mornings they could work in September and October.

The claimant refused to work on any Saturday mornings, stating that she spent those mornings with her husband.

She was dismissed following a number of complaints from colleagues about her behaviour, which included that she had mocked those who had agreed to work on Saturdays.

The key reason given for her dismissal was the employer’s belief that a number of other employees would withdraw their agreement to work overtime if the claimant was excused.

The tribunal accepted that there were a number of minor flaws in the employer’s procedure. Despite this, the tribunal had no reservation that the dismissal was within the range of “reasonable responses”.

The tribunal said: “The claimant 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.

“The consequences for the respondent had the claimant not been dismissed might have been disastrous. The respondent had been extraordinarily patient.

“Dismissal was unarguably within the range of reasonable responses to a very difficult situation.”