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What Is Forced Overtime?
Under federal law, employers are generally allowed to require their employees to work as many hours as the employer wishes. However, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires that, for some jobs, employees required to work more than 40 hours a week must be paid time and a half (their regular hourly wage plus 50%).
Accordingly, forced overtime (sometimes called “mandatory overtime”) is generally legal, at least under federal law. State laws may still place additional limitations. In addition, some occupations, such as nursing, are subject to more overtime regulation than others.
Are There Any Limits to Mandatory Overtime?
Federal law does not limit the amount of overtime an employer can require, so long as employees are paid in accordance with the law and the mandatory overtime does not create a safety risk.
A very small number of states have placed limits on forced overtime. For example, in California, employees may refuse forced overtime without penalty if they have worked at least 72 hours during the past workweek. However, nothing stops a willing employee from working as many hours of overtime as he or she wishes. California employees required to work more than 8 hours per day must be paid extra for every hour above that limit, similar to the federal requirement (and the law in most states) that employees be paid extra for hours worked beyond the 40-hour-week limit.
There are at least 16 states with restrictions on mandatory overtime: Alaska, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Washington, and West Virginia. These restrictions range from limiting the number of work-hours an employer can require to prohibiting the practice of mandatory overtime in certain occupations. Some states also prohibit the use of mandatory overtime as a means to overcome staffing problems.
Union contracts, and other types of employment contracts, may also restrict the amount of overtime an employer can demand. Violation of these agreements is considered a breach of contract, and can open the employer to a civil suit.
What If I Refuse to Work the Additional Time?
An employee that refuses to work overtime when requested to do so will likely be subject to discipline. Refusal to work overtime may even result in termination. However, if some aspect of the required overtime is illegal – if the mandatory overtime violates a contract, creates a safety or health hazard, or is not compensated in accordance with state and federal law – the overtime may be challenged.
What If My Employer Forces Me to Work Overtime but Refuses to Pay Extra?
Although most jobs are governed by the FLSA, there are some exceptions to the time-and-half law. Such exemptions include, but are not limited to:
- Farm or ranch workers
- Seamen or workers on water-bound vehicles
- Youth counselors with child care responsibilities
- Computer professionals
- Administrative professionals
- Salaried professionals
Do I Need to Consult a Lawyer about Mandatory Overtime?
Employers are often at an advantage in mandatory overtime cases. If you have been forced to work overtime in violation of an employment contract or union agreement, have not been compensated for your overtime work in accordance with state or federal law, believe that the conditions of your overtime work pose health and safety concerns, or otherwise believe your rights have been violated, you should seek legal assistance.
An experienced employment lawyer from your area will be familiar with the laws of your state and the laws that may govern your particular field of employment, and can advise you on your rights and potential remedies.
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Last Modified: 02-13-2015 03:01 PM PST
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