Wrongful termination attorneys commonly hear strange stories about firings that simply seem immoral or plain wrong. As wrongful termination lawyers, we have heard plenty of stories about bizarre firings, such as termination over workplace food fights, gossiping about a patient’s medical files, or coming to work with a forehead mud smidge. While these situations may not all seem like valid reasons to fire someone, they all were perfectly legal.
The same is generally true of refusing to work on a day off. Most wrongful termination attorneys will agree that wrongful termination cases are difficult to win due to the at-will structure of employment in this country. There normally must be a legal reason why a termination is wrongful for any liability to flow to an employer. The question of termination due to taking a day off is relatively complicated, however, and will depend on the circumstances.
At-Will Employment in the United States
First, a bit of background on the employment law framework in the United States would be useful to help better explain the current state of wrongful termination law. The United States follows the rule of at-will employment. This means that employees can generally be fired at any time, for any reason, or even no reason at all. This rule may seem draconian and ripe for employer abuse at first; however, the rule also benefits employees, who can choose to take any available employment and quit at any time. Historically, the rule evolved as a response to feudalism and indentured servitude practices. Without at-will employment, landed servitude might still be common practice.
Wrongful Termination After Taking Your Day Off
While at-will employment does give everyday employees the freedom to change jobs at will, it understandably has negative consequences when it seems that employees are terminated unfairly. For example, assume an employer sets a weekly schedule and assigns each worker a day off. An employer is permitted to thereafter change his or her mind and not allow the employee to take that day off. In fact, it may even be considered insubordination to refuse to work. That said, there are some common exceptions to this general rule that may apply.
New York’s “Day of Rest” Statute
Like many states, New York also has what is known as a “day of rest” statute. Under this law, certain New York employers must allow their employees a consecutive 24-hour period of off-time once during a seven-day period. Any employer in non-compliance with this rule must answer to the New York Department of Labor.
Religious Accommodations Requiring Employee Time Off
Employers cannot legally require an employee holding strict religious convictions to come into work on religious observance days. Under Federal and State laws, religious employees are entitled to a reasonable accommodation of their genuinely-held religious beliefs unless the accommodation poses an undue burden to the employer. This accommodation can require employers to permit religious employees to wear certain religious clothing at work or abstain from performing certain job duties. An employer’s duty to accommodate also extends to allowing religious employees time off for religious observances.
If Your Employer Forces You to Work Over 40-hours in a Workweek
Finally, under both Federal and State laws, employees are entitled to overtime when they work more than 40-hours in a workweek. Employers often carefully plan employee work schedules to maximize the 40-hour standard pay period in order to avoid paying anyone overtime. A sudden change in schedule, however, will often result in an employee working at least some amount of time over the 40-hours per workweek threshold. If a non-exempt employee works more than 40 hours in a one-week period, that employee will be owed one-and-a-half time pay for each hour worked over forty.