Guide to Mandatory Overtime Rules (What Labor Laws You Should Know About)

Everything You Need To Know About Forced Overtime

Employees being forced by managers to work extra hours in an effort to cut costs rather than hiring new workers can clearly be unfair - but is it legal?

For years, most workers never had to consider the impact to their family, lives and health after being required to stay late, work more when refusing to work means losing your job. Employers argue labor shortages are forcing their hand, and they don't have enough qualified employees. The more aggressive workplace attorneys would argue business owners are just trying to squeeze more productivity from less staff.

In addition to the very important issue of whether you can refuse overtime work without risk to your job - is the question of entitled compensation under the law. Getting paid for overtime work, what situations qualify for compensation and how much you are entitled is of vital interest to employees. The wage and hour questions are numerous and complex, and we'll try to answer some of the most pressing in this guide.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is the defining law which sets many of the rules at the federal level for the employer-employee relationship.

Read more as we break what your employer's obligations ARE under the law, and what rights the employed have according to the employment laws.


Can You Be Required To Work Overtime?

Specific state overtime laws notwithstanding - the short answer is probably "Yes".

As a general rule, under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) which regulates most wage & hour issues on the federal level, how many hours an employee works is up to the employer's discretion. There is an important exception to the rule being employees are protected from forced overtime when it puts the worker at risk of injury of violates safety standards.

This is not a hard rule, as a number of industries are exceptions with regulations restricting the maximum hours and time period for work for safety reasons. For example, truck drivers have strict hours of service rules restricting the legality of forcing overtime on the basis that exhaustion would put themselves and other drivers at risk if they worked too many hours. Healthcare workers are also a common exception with many state labor laws restricting mandatory overtime.

From state to state labor laws can differ, and numerous states have implemented restrictions (California for requires a mandatory day off for every seven day work period - among other requirements) ...

When it comes to employment law situations, the issue of whether what happened constitutes unfair vs. illegal is a common qualifying hurdle. While not violating the overtime standards set by law, your contract may restrict mandatory overtime. Your union representative may be able to help or an employment law attorney when your employer is in violation of your contract but not necessarily violating the overtime laws.

What is important ot understand is that, while you may be required to work overtime - getting paid what you are entitled is the next concern. As an hourly worker you are likely entitled to "time and a half" for the hours worked which qualify.

Continue reading if you feel your employer is trying to avoid paying you what you are owed.

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What The Law Says About Getting Paid for Overtime Hours Worked

Time and a Half: Overtime hours are entitled to pay at 1.5 times (time and a half) regular wage. This applies to most hourly laborer. So, while you may be forced by management in most cases legally to work overtime, you ARE entitled to time and a half compensation for hours worked in excess of 8 hours in a workday or 40 hours in a workweek.

The after designated hours rates can vary by state - in which case the most beneficial to the worker is

The FLSA details the requirement for employer payment for all hours in excess of 8 per day or 40 per week.

While the law does mandate overtime pay for hours more than 40 per week and 8 per day, it does not mandate that employers pay overtime for weekend hours or holiday hours. That decision is left to the discretion of the employer. Extra pay for working weekends or nights is left to the employer-employee agreement.

Very Important: The overtime requirements cannot be waived by agreement between employee and employer. Workers covered who work overtime hours are entitled to compensation. Employees have a right to compensation under the Act regardless of employer policies which require authorization in advance or restricting overtime hours. A contract can forbid overtime, however it cannot include any stipulations in violation of law.

The FLSA does allow for some laborer categories to be automatically eligible for overtime pay, regardless of their earnings. The workers included are:

  • Manual laborers, or so called Blue Collar workers, who perform repetitive work utilizing their physical energy, skills and hands
  • First responders such as firefighters, paramedics, and police
  • Licensed practical nurses
  • Paralegals

If you have additional questions about your rights to overtime compensation your lawyer will be able to help determine what you may be entitled.

The U.S. Wage Theft Epidemic: Getting Paid What You Are Legally Entitled

legal wages recovery flsa

Recently reported statistics from the Department of Labor show in 2008 there was a total of $140.2 million paid out to over 197,000 employees as the result of employer FLSA violations (DOL). Some of the hour and wage violations reported include:

  • Requiring off-the-clock work
  • Calculating hours as an average over two work weeks or other tricks
  • Claiming employee ineligibility for overtime pay because authorization for extra hours wasn't given in advance
  • Avoiding paying employees for meetings, training sessions, on call time, take home work, and breaks lasting between 5 and 20 minutes
  • Misclassification of employees as exempt from overtime
  • Paying "comp" time instead of overtime

Employer wage theft is a massive problem across the United States accounting for millions of dollars in entitled earnings annually.

In some cases, employers are simply ignorant of required compensation obligations to those in their employ. Others are taking willful action to avoid paying employees what they are owed. When they illegally avoid paying what people are entitled for their work it constitutes wage theft - they are knowingly or unknowingly stealing from their workers.

When a worker punches out after a full day of work, puts in the long hours required at their work - they have a reasonable expectation to the paycheck.

Government & Employment Legal Resources

Here are some resources (a running collection) of official and useful online information having to do with basic laws and statutes important in the workplace.

The following State court and legislative resources are intended to help with your labor law & workplace regulation research.

  • Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA)
  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII)
  • The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA)
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
  • Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
  • The Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA)

Additional State regulations and local laws may also afford additional protections in the workplace.

State Regulations: (Specific to your State of Residence)

Wage Resources by State: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan,, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming


State laws are always subject to change.


    Federal Resources

    Recent Case News