Mandatory overtime, also known as forced overtime, is a source of constant conflict in many workplaces. It is also a sticking point for labor advocates. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is a federal law that provides standards for many aspects of employment, including overtime pay and minimum wage. It also provides standards for record keeping and youth employment for employees in the private and public sectors.

The FLSA defines overtime as any work hours logged over 40 hours in a work week. After that 40 hours, an employee is entitled to receive at least 1.5 times their regular pay per hour, also known as time and a half. It is important to note that some employees and occupations are not covered by the FLSA, including:

  • Sales employees of retail or service establishments that work on commission;
  • Recreational and/or seasonal establishments;
  • Computer professionals earning at least $27.60 per hour;
  • Mechanics, partsmen, and/or salesmen in car dealerships;
  • Loaders, driver’s helpers, and drivers;
  • Farm workers; and
  • Administrative, executive, and/or professional employees who are paid a salary.

In order for an employee to qualify for overtime pay, they must be covered under the law and the law must apply to them. These are known as non-exempt employees. If an employee is one that is not covered by the law, they are referred to as exempt employees.

Many employees have issues with mandatory overtime laws. Some states offer more protections than others regarding working more than a regular work week. This article will provide a short guide to mandatory overtime and how it affects the average worker.

Can My Employer Force Me to Work Overtime?

In many cases, yes, an employer can force you to work overtime. Federal laws that regulate overtime provide that so long as an employee is paid a proper rate, there is no limit to the amount of mandatory overtime they may be required to work for employees 16 years of age and older. 

Some employers require that an employee report for overtime work when required and refusal to do may cause an employee to get fired for refusing to work overtime. This is common in industries where work may increase during certain times of the year, such as winter holiday months in warehouses, shipping, and/or retail establishments.

The FLSA does not require an employer to pay overtime pay on weekends, holidays, and/or regular days of rest unless the employee has already worked 40 hours. Some states provide more worker-friendly legal approaches to mandatory overtime. It is important to review the local laws and regulations to see what limitations, if any, are placed on overtime hours. 

There is one important exception to mandatory overtime requirements. This occurs if forced overtime would cause safety issues for employees. In these cases, lawmakers and regulatory groups may place certain restrictions on overtime hours. Examples of this may include airline pilots and/or semi-truck drivers. Due to fatigue issues, these industries have special rules regarding the number of hours an employee may work within a specified period of time.

What Circumstances Limit Mandatory Overtime?

There are some employees that are protected from an open-ended approach to forced overtime. This includes minors and individuals with disabilities. However, overtime hours are not outlawed for individuals with legal disabilities. 

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) permits an employee with disabilities to opt in for overtime as long as the job is light duty. Light duty means the work is not particularly physically taxing. So long as the individual can safely perform the duties, disabled workers are permitted to work overtime hours and receive the higher hourly pay that is included.

An employee may also negotiate a cutoff for the overtime hours requirement during the hiring process, regardless of any disabilities. The employer and employee must agree to the cutoff and sign an employment contract that reflects their agreement. Should any issues arise regarding the overtime cutoff, the signed contract will govern the outcome. If there are not specific clauses in the employment contract, federal and state law will govern.

Should an employee have the opportunity to negotiate overtime terms during their hiring process, it is important to note that pursuant to the FLSA, only hours can be reduced and not pay. Any employee who works over 40 hours will still earn 1.5 times their regular hourly pay rate.

Do These Standards Apply to All Jobs?

These standards apply to all jobs where an employee earns their wages by the hour. However, overtime pay exceptions do exist. Generally, employees who earn a salary instead of hourly pay are not eligible for overtime pay. The FLSA was updated in 2019 to specifically exempt white collar jobs, where the employee’s duties fall into an executive, administrative, and/or professional capacity. 

Special rules also exist for volunteers, independent contractors, and seasonal workers. If an individual is unsure whether or not their employment falls into one of these categories, it is best to seek the advice of an attorney.

What are Some Other Important Considerations?

There are also other important considerations regarding mandatory overtime. Pursuant to the FLSA, overtime does not necessarily begin if an employee works more than 8 hours in a day. The law measures work hours on a weekly basis, not a daily basis. Some states, including Alaska and California, do provide overtime for employees working more than 8 hours. Since these laws may vary by state, it is important to review local laws and consult with an attorney to determine what rules may apply.

Some employees are members of labor unions. A labor union includes a group of workers in a specific trade or company that is organized to protect and further the rights and interests of employees. Unions are formed by employees with similar mindsets in order to approach their employer collectively. Some conditions they address include:

  • Clean and safe work environments;
  • Fair wages;
  • Medical and/or benefits such as insurance;
  • Equal and fair procedures for promotion and/or firing; and/or
  • Protections from unfair discipline and/or termination.

If a labor union exists, overtime is dictated by the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) that was negotiated between the employer and union officials. Similar to individual employment contracts, a CBA is a contractual agreement. Should an employer violate the CBA, they may be subject to a civil lawsuit.

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

Yes, you should consult with an experienced employment attorney if you are facing forced overtime legal issues. As noted above, laws may vary by state so it is important to have an attorney review your local laws. Should your employer not provide proper overtime hours and/or pay, an overtime pay dispute may be necessary. 

An attorney will be able to review both local and federal laws to determine which applies in your case. The attorney will also be able to review the facts of your case, determine if a claim is available, and/or represent you during any court proceedings, if necessary.

An employee may also be able to file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in order to receive monetary compensation for any missing overtime pay. An attorney will also be able to assist with these claims in order to help you obtain the best outcome for your case.