Teaching Notes: “Overtime”

Keywords: workplace; coworkers; leadership; working conditions; decision-making;


This Interactive involves a junior employee being asked to work a small amount of unpaid overtime, to demonstrate loyalty as a “team player.” Regardless of whether the employee says “yes” or “no,” the situation turns ugly. 

This scenario is intended to illustrate several key points. The first is that ethical issues can arise out of dilemmas that don’t have an obvious ethical dimension. The second is that an agreement ‘willingly’ made between two individuals (in this case, boss and employee) can have unanticipated effects on third parties. The third issue is that sometimes there is no good outcome — there are situations in which all available choices lead to bad outcomes for someone.

Possible Questions for Discussion:

  • Is it reasonable for a boss to ask an employee to work a small num er of extra hours in order to meet a deadline, even if that work is unpaid?
  • Is “being a team player” in the face of a request for unpaid overtime ever obligatory?
  • Are certain categories of employees more likely to be vulnerable to such requests?
  • If one employee agrees to work unpaid overtime, there’s a chance that others might then feel pressure to do likewise. Should that risk factor into the decision?


“Second $80M employee class action lawsuit expands to include RBC Life Insurance Company” (NewsWire.ca)

“Spain’s Fight Against Unpaid Overtime” (BBC News)

“Ethics of Wages & Working Conditions” (Concise Encyclopedia of Business Ethics)