Could they fire me for not being able to work overtime?

I am currently facing a problem. When I signed up for my job the application said I was scheduled for 36 hours a week and that there would be occasional overtime. Since I started working there which has been about 10 months I have been working between 49-74 hours a week. I was okay with it until recently I have become very ill. My doctor limited me to 40 hours a week. The first time I took the note in to my employer they where going to let me go but they said that they would work with me. For about a month I was only working 48 hours a week max which is more than my doctor had limited me to. After that month I began getting scheduled for more than 72 hours a week once again. I have currently been very sick and have been having to take trips to the ER here and

there. I just received the same letter from my doctor yesterday saying that I’m not supposed to be working more than 40 hours a week. I am afraid since their reaction to it last time was that they would have to fire me is what’s going to happen this time. Is this fair?

Asked on September 17, 2016 under Employment Labor Law, Utah


M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

While legally, an employer has to make a "reasonable accommodation" for an employee who has a medical condition, it is not generally required to accommodate them by letting them work fewer hours than are needed. The fact is that most employment is "at will", which means that a company can set the conditions of employment much as it sees fit; this includes scheduling an employee to work for as many hours as it requires. This is true so long as there no employment contract or union agreement to the contrary. Also, such action must not constitute some form of legally actionable discrimination (which it does not appear to regarding an accomodation as discussed above).

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

It may not be fair, but it is most likely legal. An employer has free discretion to set the hours or amount of work required for a job--unless there was a written employment contract setting hours, the employer can change them, including increasing them, such as by requiring consistent or constant overtime, at any time, at will. 
While employers have to make "reasonable accommodations" for employees with medical conditions, a reasonable accommodation is some change in rules/procedures, or some provision of assistantive devices, which is not too expensive or disruptive and which lets the employ work his or her full hours (as determined by the employer) and do his or her full job. If you can't work as many hours as the employer requires, they are not generally required to accommodate you by letting you work less; they can require you to work as many hours as they want, and terminate you if you cannot.

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