Forced overtime (also known as mandatory overtime) is a topic of constant conflict in many workplaces and a sticking point for labor advocates. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) defines overtime as any hours logged over 40 in a work week. After 40 hours, an employee is entitled to receive no less than one and a half times their regular pay. 

However, many employees run into issues with the “mandatory” portion of overtime laws, with some states offering more protection than others when it comes to working more than the regular full work week. Here is a short guide to mandatory overtime and what the average worker faces when it is invoked.

Can My Employer Force Me to Work Overtime?

In many cases, the answer is yes. The federal laws regulating overtime state that as long as you are paid the proper rate, there is no limit on mandatory overtime for workers 16 and older. In fact, some jobs require that an employee show up for overtime when directed to so, with refusal being a fireable offense. This is common in industries where the workload can spike during certain times of the year, like the winter holiday months in warehouses, retail, and shipping. 

In addition, the FLSA does not require overtime pay on weekends, holidays, or regular days of rest unless you have already worked 40 hours.There are some states that offer more worker-friendly legal approaches to mandatory overtime. Therefore, you may need to check your specific state’s rules governing overtime to see what limitations (if any) your state places on working extra hours. There is an important exception to this rule, though. 

If forced overtime would cause safety issues for the employee, lawmakers and regulatory groups can place certain restrictions on those hours. Semi-truck drivers and airline pilots are examples of industries where special rules about overtime and how many hours an employee can work within a period of time. 

What Circumstances Limit Mandatory Overtime?

There are some groups that are protected from this open-ended approach to forced overtime, such as minors and those with disabilities. For those with a legal disability, you might assume that overtime hours are outlawed. 

However, the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) allows the employee to opt-in to overtime as long as the job is “light-duty,” which means that it is not particularly physically taxing. As long as the person can safely physically perform these duties, disabled workers can work overtime hours and receive the higher pay that comes with it. 

Finally, a worker can negotiate a cutoff for overtime hours with their employer during the hiring process, regardless of disability, as long as both employer and employee agree to it in a signed employment contract. In the event of a disagreement on the subject, the contract will control the outcome. If there are no clauses in the contract that specifically addresses this issue, federal and state law governs. 

If you do have the opportunity to negotiate overtime terms, remember that only hours and not pay can be reduced, as per the FLSA. Anything over 40 hours still earns one and a half times regular wages.

Do these Standards Apply to All Jobs?

For workers who earn their wages by the hour, these standards apply. There are quite a few exceptions to the rule, though. In general, workers who earn a salary instead of hourly pay are not entitled to overtime pay. A 2019 update to the FLSA specifically exempts white collar jobs, where the worker’s duties fall into an executive, administrative, or professional capacity. 

There are also special rules for volunteers, independent contractors, and seasonal workers. If you are confused as to whether one of these exemptions applies to you, it is best to seek the advice of an employment attorney for a definitive answer. 

What are Some Other Important Considerations?

Under the FLSA, overtime does not necessarily kick in if you work more than 8 hours on a particular day. The law measures these hours on a weekly basis, not a daily one. A few states like Alaska and California do allow for overtime over 8 hours, though, so once again make sure to check your state’s laws or contact an employment attorney to make sure.

If you are a member of a union, overtime is dictated by the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) negotiated between the employer and union officials. Just like with individual employment, a CBA is a contractual agreement, and if the employer violates it they are subject to a civil suit. 

Do I Need to Hire a Lawyer if I’m Facing Forced Overtime Legal Issues?

If you feel like your employer is not following the law concerning overtime hours and pay, the next step is to contact an employment attorney, who can sit down with you and analyze your situation with both federal and state laws in mind. You may be able to file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and receive monetary redress for the overtime pay you have earned.