Published on October 14th, 2014 by Alan Sklover
Question: Dear Alan: I have been working for my company for three years and over that time my weekly hours have gone from 40 sometimes up to 75. Without a doubt it is now beginning to negatively affecting me, my health, my family and my sanity.
Do you have any ideas?
Cranston, Rhode Island
Answer: Dear Overworked: What you are experiencing is the “new productivity,” which is four people doing the work that nine people used to do. Many hours being required is not generally a violation of law, except in a few occupations where public safety might be affected, such as airplane pilots, truck drivers, emergency room physicians, and coal miners. Here are my thoughts on this all-too-common worldwide problem.
1. With few exceptions, the law does not impose any limit on hours worked or required to be worked. In most states and countries, the law does not place any maximum number of hours an employee can work. The exceptions to this general rule are generally limited to occupations in which the employees, if overworked and unrested, could bring about injury to others, such as (a) airline pilots, (b) physicians, (c) truck drivers and (d) coal miners. In fact, in most places, there is no legal prohibition against employers making employees work overtime as a condition to keeping the job; that is, it is not a violation of law to fire an employee for refusing to work extra-long hours.
2. Some people ask: “Isn’t that harassment or hostility?” While it may seem that an employer requiring 70, 80 or 90 hours a week is being downright harassing or hostile, in the eyes of the law it is not. In the law, “harassment”, “hostility” and “hostile work environment” exist only when the harassment or hostility is related to a kind of forbidden discrimination, such as discrimination on the bases of age, gender, religion, race, disability, pregnancy and national origin.
3. Whether demanding too many hours is legal or not, employees can and should “push back” a bit if being required to work a great deal of overtime on a regular basis. There is no question about it: at some point, the hours an employee is required to work are simply “over the line.” That point, for most people, is when the number of hours worked begins to negatively affect health, family or emotions. In those cases, the employee has to make a decision, and act on that decision, to simply say, “This is too much”.
4. We recommend “navigating” this issue by using a two-step process, the first step being an email-transmitted “sharing of concerns”. The first step we recommend to clients is that in an email they share with their manager concerns about the workload (a) beginning to become unsustainable, (b) portending a lessening of quality, and (c) starting to put a strain on health and family. It is a “gentle” approach, and should include suggestions about what could be done to better share the workload, adjust the timing of assignments, and setting priorities on different tasks.
5. If that does not work, the second step we recommend is a kind of “notice”, that is, letting your manager and Human Resources know by email that, when necessary, you will be leaving work to go home. This second step is a bit “firmer” in tone and effect, and follows the adage “Don’t ask permission; ask forgiveness.” Without sounding adversarial or confrontational, you can still sound determined to protect your health, for without you being healthy, no one – not your employer, not your colleagues, not the customers, and not you – is well-served.
We offer Two Model Letters to Your Manager Requesting Relief from Too Many Hours following the suggestions above. It shows you What to Say, and How to Say It™, just [click here.] Delivered Instantly By Email to Your Printer.
6. Just in case you really can’t take it anymore: consider taking an unpaid leave of absence under the Family Medical Leave Act. The Family Medical Leave Act, commonly known as FMLA, provides employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave time if they or a family member is ill or injured. Even if it is only for a short while, and while it may entail getting a physician to certify that you need the time off – a few days, a few weeks or a few months – it may well be worth it.
Act Wisely! Consider using our Model Memo Requesting FMLA Information, Forms and Procedures from Human Resources. It shows you What to Say, and How to Say It™, just [click here.] Delivered Instantly By Email to Your Printer.
In making these suggestions, it is not overlooked or forgotten that many employees are frightened, if not terrified, that they will be retaliated against, or even fired, despite even minimal “push back’ to protect their health, family and emotional well-being. It just comes down to this: Can you more likely “survive” (a) being retaliated against, even losing your job, or (b) losing your health, losing your marriage and losing your sanity? In our experience, for truly overworked employees, the chances of losing their jobs are lower than are the chances of losing your health, marriage and sanity.
Hope this helps, and helps you get the rest, recuperation and regeneration you need.
P.S.: Have you already become ill? Need your employer’s illness-related policies? Use our Model Notification of Illness or Injury, Requesting Information, Forms, Procedures and Deadlines. It shows you What to Say, and How to Say It™, just [click here.] Delivered Instantly By Email to Your Printer.
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