The basic idea behind overtime work is that your boss has to pay you time and a half for the extra work to compensate you for going above and beyond your normal duties. Many workers actively desire overtime because it’s worth it to make that extra money, even if it makes for a long and difficult week at work.

But not everyone shares this mindset. Maybe you’re very busy with family life, you’re happy with your standard wages and you simply don’t want to work overtime, even for an increase in pay. If your boss asks you to stay, do you have to do it or can you refuse?

You can refuse, certainly, but your boss also has the right to fire you if you do. The Fair Labor Standards Act specifies that you should never be compelled to work more than those typical 40 hours each week — unless your pay increases for the extra time. That’s the critical wording that applies in this situation. Your employer does have the right to tell you to work more than 40 hours, as long as they also agree to pay you extra.

Will you get fired if you refuse? Every situation is unique. Your boss certainly could decide to fire you and hire someone who will be more open to working extra hours. They may also just let another employee take those hours for you. But you do need to know that you’re not protected from retaliation if you do refuse the extra time. 

The employee/employer relationship can get complicated, and it’s important for all involved to know their legal rights.