You can refuse to work weekends, but do so at your own peril
As a frustrated employee turned small business owner, I’ve always struggled to find a healthy balance between my professional life and my personal life.
In the corporate world, I was often forced to work weekends and long hours when I didn’t want to. After rage-quitting my job in 2017 – largely due to my awful schedule and strange work hours – I swore to myself that I’d never work weekends again. But it was a vow that would ultimately be broken. Today, as a small business owner, I will fully admit that I still use weekend hours to play catch-up, on occasion.
However, there’s a big difference between working the occasional weekend by choice and being repeatedly made to work weekends by a less-than-empathetic employer. And as someone who has made that transition from every weekend to “only when I feel like it” I wanted to offer some advice to others who are currently feeling overworked and looking for a way out.
Yes, you can refuse to work weekends, but you may get fired for doing so. The best methods to try to get out of working weekends include negotiation, making up an excuse, using paid time off, and getting a new job or quitting. You may also want to seek legal advice, depending on the situation.
IN THIS ARTICLE
Can I refuse to work weekends?
Nobody can technically force you to work weekends in the United States. Indentured servitude was made illegal many years ago. You have the legal right to refuse. But your client or employer also has the right to penalize or fire you for that refusal. Especially if weekend work is a known job requirement. It’s a risk you take. The whole “free country” thing goes both ways.
It’s easier for freelancers and self-employed individuals to say no to weekend work – especially if they aren’t desperate for money and have the luxury of being picky. They can just say “no”. However, still find that many lack the courage to stand up to their clients and enforce healthy boundaries. It’s an emotional cage of their own making.
For regular part-time and full-time employees, unless otherwise stated in the employment contract, weekend work might not be quite as easily avoidable. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have options.
6 ways to get out of working weekends
Below I will offer a few tips on how to get out of doing weekend work for both self-employed individuals in need of a little encouragement and for hourly/salaried employees who are at the end of their rope.
1. Ask questions and negotiate
First, if your client or employer asks you to start picking up a few extra weekend shifts, try not to freak out. The request doesn’t always come from a place of nefarious intent. And you have the right to politely and professionally push back. It might feel intimidating, but I’m a big believer in asking for what you want in this world.
Employees should start by reviewing their contract of employment. Freelancers and independent professionals should also review their contracts, if applicable. It’s a good idea to review these documents because they will help you more clearly understand your rights and your designation.
For example, regular salaried employees – depending on the number of hours worked – may be eligible for overtime pay when asked to pick up extra shifts. Regular employees covered by the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act must receive overtime pay if they exceed more than 40 hours of work in a single workweek. That amount is normally at least one and one-half times the employee’s regular rate.
Then set up a time to sit down and chat. If your client or employer is even slightly reasonable – and if they aren’t, maybe you should be rethinking working for this person or company altogether – it won’t hurt to ask questions and politely negotiate. I’ve seen plenty of employers over the years who were willing to cut a deal with their employees to let them only work every other weekend or give them at least one odd weekend off per month.
If all else fails, you may be able to at least negotiate a raise or extra pay in exchange. The worst they can say is “no”.
Self-employed people can also make weekend work profitable by charging an extra fee. On the rare occasion, I pull a Saturday shift for my clients I always charge an extra fee on top of my normal hourly rate – normally either 1.5-2x my normal rate. Weekend work can be quite profitable if you play your cards right.
2. Use an excuse
If your employer or client asks why you can’t or don’t want to work on the weekends, you are not obligated to provide a reason. But it might be helpful to do so. Just remember, an employer or client doesn’t have to accept these excuses. Regardless, it may be worth a try anyway. As the saying goes, “nothing ventured, nothing gained”. Just don’t get caught if you exaggerate the truth a bit. Below are a few of my favorite lines.
“I’m out of town”
If it’s one weekend and not a permanent change, just say you’re out of town for a pre-planned trip or vacation. This also works well for self-employed individuals who are dealing with clients who aren’t respecting their boundaries.
“I have pre-existing obligations”
You could also just say that you have pre-existing obligations on xyz weekend(s) every month. To give you an idea, those obligations could be related to family commitments, travel, religion (or religious beliefs), a second job or even school. Looking back at my time as a college student working in retail part-time, I desperately wish I had fabricated a couple of extra “classes” each week for some guaranteed downtime.
“I don’t work weekends”
Self-employed individuals have the real upper hand here. We can just say “no”. Most of the time the client will understand. And if they don’t, consider replacing the client with one that respects your boundaries.
3. Use vacation time or sick leave
Employees who have enough vacation time or sick leave stored up can strategically use it to get at least a few of their weekends back. The obvious drawback of this one is that it quickly eats into your precious vacation pay and requires advance notice. But it’s a sure-fire way of getting the weekend off if all else fails. Just remember, there is no federal law that prohibits an employer from asking for proof if you use your sick leave. So use that excuse sparingly and at your own risk. On a personal note, I’ve only faked one sick day at work in my entire life. But I must admit – it was exhilarating.
4. Apply for a different position
It’s unlikely that every position in the company requires weekend work. Oftentimes, managers and higher-ups are off the hook when it comes to Saturday shifts. Do a bit of research to see whether or not you are qualified for a different position in the same company. Who knows, you might even be able to negotiate a raise along the way.
This can apply to self-employed professionals as well. Especially those who find themselves consistently picking up more than their fair share of extra hours on the weekend. Self-employed professionals can also use this approach to proactively prevent weekend work. They can carefully examine their processes and service offerings to identify problematic or time-consuming tasks, and then remove those tasks from the equation. For example, in my company, I noticed that I get more panicked weekend calls about websites than any other service category. So I eventually decided to no longer offer that service to new clients.
I am well aware that this sounds easier said than done. But as someone who spent two and a half years in a job that made me work almost every weekend and every holiday (and refused to negotiate) before I finally walked away, I can tell you that most jobs are more replaceable than we think. I more than doubled that salary in less than a year after calling it quits by working for myself.
There is no guarantee the grass will be greener on the other side. But there’s also no guarantee that it won’t be. Every situation will have its pros and cons. But if the demands of your current situation are causing you to lose sleep at night and creating a strain on your mental health and personal relationships, it might be time to cut your losses and run. Just set clear boundaries before walking into your next job, picking up your next client, or starting your own business to make sure you don’t end up in the same situation again.
6. Seek legal advice
Finally – and this mostly goes for regular employees – if you suspect your employer’s request to be in breach of contract or not in compliance with state labor laws, you may want to seek professional legal advice from an employment attorney. Common labor law violations as related to extra work include:
- Employer misclassification.
- Failure to pay overtime wages (for hours of overtime).
- Keeping inaccurate records in accordance with the Fair Labor Standards Act.
- The creation of a hostile work environment.
There are even some state laws that limit or prohibit mandatory overtime hours. However, proving labor law violations can often be a long, expensive and difficult task. So this option should only be reserved for situations where you believe an actual breach has occurred.
Freelancers may also want to seek legal advice if they find themselves “trapped” in a contract but feel as though the client may be in breach or performing activities that are less than on the “up and up”.
The importance of setting boundaries
The real secret to finding happiness in your career is learning how to set boundaries early on in the relationship. From minimum wage workers to salaried employees to freelancers – make it clear what days and times and you are willing to work. Make sure the job’s normal hours and expectations are clearly defined.
Also, be sure that these parameters are well-documented in a written contract. And remember, as I stated earlier, it never hurts to ask for what we want in this world.
I’ve seen all sorts of crazy things negotiated into a new contract. I once managed to negotiate a $40,000 increase over the posted starting pay. (The employer told me the normal pay was $35,000 per year, I asked for $100,000, we landed on $75,000).
As a freelancer, I’ve negotiated raises for myself from an hourly rate of $55 up to $200 per hour.
I have a friend who’s an even better negotiator than I am. And I’ve seen him talk his way into all sorts of crazy deals over the years. During his last job interview, he managed to negotiate “flex hours” and “flex PTO” into his salaried position with the option to work as many or as few hours as he so desired from wherever he wanted in a fully remote position with a high six-figure salary and bonuses to boot.
Finally, when in doubt, have a lawyer review those contracts before signing and make recommendations.
What strategies do you employ to get out of working weekends? Let me know in the comments below and don’t forget to connect with me on social media.