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How to say no to an overtime request

Explaining the reason you are unable to cover an open EMT or paramedic shift is unnecessary and counter-productive


A great value of an online or automated scheduling software program is it removes the intentional or unintentional inducement of guilt.

Photo/Max Pixel

“Can you pick up an open shift tomorrow?” asked the dispatcher.

“No,” I replied.

“John called in sick. Can you take his spot on Medic 5?” asked the green shift supervisor.

“No thanks,” I stated.

In today’s climate, I am sure you have fielded calls to come in for additional hours. How do you respond to questions about your availability for open shifts?

Justifying or rationalizing your decision to decline an open shift is unnecessary and counter-productive. We are all busy. We are all sleep deprived. We are all trying to balance work with family obligations and personal interests. None of us want to have EMS burnout.

Giving a long-winded and wandering explanation may unintentionally be interpreted as low commitment to the organization or making poor choices away from work. Also, an explanation only prolongs the dispatcher or supervisor’s effort to cover the shift. Just say “no.”


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It’s OK to say no to overtime

If you feel compelled to say something beyond “No” try:

  • “No. Sorry.”
  • “No. Thanks for asking me.”
  • “No. Please keep me in mind for future open shifts.”
  • “Sorry, I am not available.”

An open shift is unlikely to be your problem to solve. But if you want to offer a partial solution you could try:

  • “I could do a portion of the shift from this time to this time if that is helpful.”

Supervisors just ask about availability

If you are the caller attempting to fill a shift it is enough to say:

  • “We have an open shift. Can you come in?”
  • “We need an EMT to cover these hours. Are you available?”
  • “We have a sick call for station 11. Can you cover it?”

Telling a long story to describe the need or prove who is to blame for the open shift doesn’t resolve the current need. Casting blame and throwing coworkers under the ambulance is damaging to organization morale.

Scheduling software eliminates the emotion

A great value of an online or automated scheduling software program is it removes the intentional or unintentional inducement of guilt. Alternatively, a group email or private Facebook group message simply communicates the open shift and directs a method for response without any emotional judgment.

How do you say no to overtime?

Are you able to easily say no?

If you are the caller, attempting to fill shifts, do you want and appreciate an explanation or are you already dialing the next person as soon as you hear “no?”

Read next: 5 EMS tips for a work-life balance

This article was originally posted Apr. 7, 2019. It has been updated.

Greg Friese, MS, NRP, is the Lexipol Editorial Director, leading the efforts of the editorial team on Police1, FireRescue1, Corrections1 and EMS1. Greg served as the EMS1 editor-in-chief for five years. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a master’s degree from the University of Idaho. He is an educator, author, national registry paramedic since 2005, and a long-distance runner. Greg was a 2010 recipient of the EMS 10 Award for innovation. He is also a three-time Jesse H. Neal award winner, the most prestigious award in specialized journalism, and the 2018 and 2020 Eddie Award winner for best Column/Blog. Connect with Greg on LinkedIn.