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Is Mandatory Overtime Legal?

Like so many areas of the law, it depends on the specifics of your work situation.

Worker shortages coupled with lingering supply chain disruptions have created a strain on employers. More employees are retiring, many are seeking remote positions, and others are simply choosing not to work. The worker shortage may lead to your employer requiring overtime to keep up.

Is mandatory overtime legal? Generally, yes, if the employer meets specific requirements. Mandatory overtime requests must meet state and federal labor laws. Federal law sets a minimum standard that the state must meet.

If your employer follows the law, they can require you to work overtime. They can also legally fire you for refusing.

What Is Mandatory Overtime?

Mandatory overtime is when your employer makes you work more than 40 hours a week. Every state has its own laws governing overtime. Unfortunately, your boss might approach this situation without:

  • Asking for your approval
  • Asking if you'd like more hours of work
  • Letting you pick your overtime hours
  • Offering it only to employees who want more hours
  • Telling you it is OK to say "no."

Your employer may threaten termination or fire anyone who refuses to work overtime. Unfortunately, as long as they pay you overtime wages, this is legal in most situations.

If you belong to a union, your employer cannot violate any collective bargaining agreement.

Know Your Company's Policy on Overtime

When you start a job, the uglier sides of the work are not always clear. Read your company's overtime requirements. Overtime policies are sometimes confusing or made to seem trivial. Your work's overtime policy may say something like:

We cannot guarantee overtime will be available. Reasonable hours of overtime are required from time to time. Employer will provide advanced notice when possible. All employees are expected to work such hours as needed.

This language can be tricky because the hours and advance notice are not defined. Companies use policies like this to keep their options open.

40 Hours Is Just the Minimum for Full-Time Employees, Not the Maximum

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) sets a standard of a 40-hour work week. This act offers many protections but does not limit the number of consecutive hours employees can work weekly. FLSA also does not limit the number of hours in a workday. It simply sets 40 hours as the minimum for full-time hourly workers age 16 and older. FLSA does not offer protections to exempt employees and independent contractors. Overtime rates don't apply to them.

The FLSA established a federal minimum wage. State minimum wage laws must be at or above this rate. An employer must pay the higher hourly rate if the rate is lower than the federal rate. Tipped employees receive a minimum of $2.13 per hour.

If you work more than 40 hours a week, FLSA's mandatory overtime law states that nonexempt employees must receive time and a half or one and one-half times their hourly wage. This applies only to hours worked over 40.

There are some employment exemptions. Generally, salaried employees making a minimum of $684 per week are not eligible for overtime pay. However, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) is increasing this limit to $844 per week beginning July 1, 2024. The rate will rise again in January 2025 to $1,128 per week. This new rule will allow millions more salaried employees to be eligible for overtime pay.

Mandatory Overtime Cannot Be a Safety Risk.

Another mandatory overtime law set by the FLSA is that mandatory overtime cannot create a "safety risk" for employees. This ranges from increased tiredness to getting seriously injured on the job.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cautions that extended overtime hours can impact your health and well-being. Overly tired workers can make mistakes or injure others on the job, so companies need to be wary of safety risks. If you must work overtime, OSHA recommends giving employees extra rest breaks and meal breaks.

Check Your State's Laws on Overtime

Be sure to check your state's specific overtime laws for any exceptions or additional rules. These laws are on your state's department of labor website.

For example, New Jersey restricts workers in health care facilities to 40 hours per week, except in emergencies. California has a law requiring employees to take one day off for every six days worked without punishment. Alaska doesn't require employers to pay time and a half when the company has less than four employees.

Employment contracts also have different rules. Whatever hours your contract states are the hours you need to work.

Knowing your state's laws can protect you from wrongful employment practices. Having a baseline knowledge of your rights can help protect you from working too many hours and being underpaid.

Getting Fired for Not Working Mandatory Overtime

Say your boss tells your team everyone needs to work 50 hours in the coming weeks to handle a project. But you have family obligations all week, so you probably want to say a polite "sorry, but I can't."

However, your boss generally has the right to fire you for not working the requested hours. There is little you can do if you are an at-will employee and your boss follows the laws of your state and the regulations of your industry.

If the worst should happen and you lose your job over mandatory overtime requests, unemployment benefits may not be available. Your manager can claim that you denying mandatory overtime is deliberate misconduct.

Firing an At-Will Employee

If you are in this situation, you may have to accept the firing. Being an at-will employee means your employer may fire you at any time, for any reason, as long as the reason is not based on:

Some cases may involve wrongful termination lawsuits. Consult with an employment attorney to double-check your options. Many offer free consultations.

Yes, You Get Time and a Half for Overtime Pay

Overtime compensation is one and one-half times your regular pay rate. Calculating your pay for working mandatory overtime is easy. If you make $10 an hour, your time-and-a-half rate will be $15. However, this payment is still taxed at the same rate.

It may look like you are being taxed at a higher rate simply because you are making 50% more of your pay.

Salaried employees can work overtime. Unfortunately, they aren't usually entitled to extra pay, except under certain circumstances. Their hours are flexible and included in their salary.

Know the Laws Behind a Workweek

It is essential to know what a workweek is. Make sure you aren't working beyond a typical workweek, which is:

  • One timeframe of 168 hours
  • Seven 24-hour periods in a row

A workweek does not strictly mean Monday through Friday. It spans the whole week to cover weekend and night shift jobs and does not need to start on Mondays.

The only rule to a workweek is that it starts on the same day and time each week. So, it would be best if you did not let your boss say your new workweek is Tuesday through the following Thursday. That would be breaking the law.

Can I Say No to Mandatory Overtime and Still Keep My Job?

It is worth talking to your manager about why you cannot work overtime. Family obligations, child care, special events, extracurricular activities, and prior commitments are all important.

Some employers may understand, while others may explain that they need someone to fill the necessary hours. Depending on your situation, you and your employer can come to a mutual understanding that helps both of you.

Questions About Overtime? Speak With an Attorney

The ins and outs of employment law can be confusing. If your company is taking advantage of you or violating the law, you may feel conflicted about speaking up. Any attorney can help, and your conversation is confidential. If you have questions about federal overtime laws or your company's overtime rules, speak with a labor or employment law attorney.

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