Can your employer make you work nights or weekends?

In Massachusetts an employer can require you to work during any time that meets their actual business objectives. If you are an employee at will, meaning there is no employment contact then you can be fired for any reason or no reason at all. As such, if you choose not to work when your supervisor directs to do so, your employment can be terminated. Alternatively, if you are working under a contract, and the terms of the contract provides for no specific restrictions on the hours you are told to work within the 40 hour guideline of Massachusetts employment law, your employer may also try to fire you for not working when directed.

When taking your employers power to control your time schedule into account though, there is a limitation to this power your employer has, which is that they can not treat you in a disparate manor due to your classification in any protected class. More specifically, The Massachusetts Fair Employment Practices Act, M.G.L. c. 151B, broadly prohibits discrimination in places of employment on the basis of an employee’s status as a physically or mentally impaired individual. A qualified disabled person is an individual who can perform the essential functions of her position either with or without a reasonable accommodation. See Labonte v. Hutchins & Wheeler, 424 Mass. 813, 816 n.3 (1997).

If you in fact have some sort of medical condition which requires you to treat during a specific period of time your employer wants you to work, you may be able to request a reasonable accommodation to not work during that specific time period to treat for your disability with proper medical documentation. You can make this request based upon the fact that you need to treat your medical condition in order to be able to perform the essential functions of your job, and this medical treatment will allow that to occur. Once you make this type of reasonable accommodation request, your employer must engage in the interactive process to determine if your request meets the standards set forth under the law. Perhaps even more importantly, your employer can not fire you because of an absence due to a physical or mental impairment. Stated more succinctly, where an employee’s absence is caused by her disability, termination because of the absence may constitute unlawful termination because of the disability. Cf. Ward v. Massachusetts Health Research Institute, 209 F.3d 29, 37-38 (1st Cir. 2000). In Ward, the plaintiff was terminated because he was often excessively tardy to work. The plaintiff claimed this was because his severe arthritis made it difficult for him to be timely.
The bottom line with this analysis is that your employer in most cases can tell you where to work, how to work and with whom you must work. However, if there are extenuating circumstances such as a physical issue that requires you to miss work during a certain period of time you have rights and should not allow an overbearing supervisor or employer to tell you otherwise. With all of this said, these are very fact specific and complex issues that you would be best suited to discuss with an experienced employment discrimination attorney.

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