Can Your Boss Make You Work Overtime?

Is it legal for an employer to require more than 40 hours of work from an employee?

Adam Freedman
March 1, 2013

Today’s topic: Can your boss make you work overtime? 

And now, your daily dose of legalese:  This article does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader.  In other words, although I am a lawyer, I’m not your lawyer.  In fact, we barely know each other. If you need personalized legal advice, contact an attorney in your community.

Can My Boss Make Me Work Overtime?

Heather writes in asking whether it’s legal for an employer to make overtime mandatory?  According to Heather, “I still get the time-and-a-half pay for any time over 40 hours worked, but my supervisor has said that we MUST work no less than 50 hours per week until further notice.”

Heather, I’m amazed you found the time to write to me!  The quick answer is that it probably is legal for your employer to require a 50-hour work week, provided that they pay you overtime, which apparently is happening in your case.   There are a few twists to overtime law, however.

Federal Law Defines the 40-Hour Week

The main law dealing with wage and hour limits is the federal Fair Labor Standards Act or FSLA, passed in 1938, but amended many times since.

The FSLA defines the 40-hour work week, establishes the federal minimum wage, and places restrictions on child labor.  The FSLA applies to employers who have more than $500,000 in annual sales, or who are engaged in interstate commerce – and, remember, interstate commerce is defined broadly. If your company uses the mail to send stuff, you’re probably engaged in interstate commerce. 

Your boss can make you work more than 40 hours a week, but he may have to pay overtime.

There is No Legal Maximum to the Hours Worked

Although the FSLA establishes the 40-hour work week, it does not put an upper limit on the number of hours your boss can ask you to work.  However, it does require that any worker covered by the statute who works more than 40 hours per week must get paid time-and-a-half for any hours worked above that number. 

Note that the federal overtime requirement is a weekly requirement.  Under the FSLA you’re not entitled to overtime for working a long day – say, more than 8 hours in a single day.  Although some states do mandate daily overtime rates.  In Colorado, mandatory overtime kicks in after a 12-hour day.  In relatively laid-back California, overtime starts after 8 hours.

Some Workers are Exempt From the FSLA

[[AdMiddle]Some workers are exempt from the FSLA’s overtime pay requirements.  Obviously, this includes employees of companies that are not engaged in interstate commerce.  But the FSLA also excludes certain types of jobs, including:

  • Railroad and air carrier employees

  • Farm workers

  • Commissioned salespeople

  • Taxi drivers

  • Movie theater employees

In some cases, workers exempted from federal law may be picked up by state overtime laws.  There are too many of these to summarize here, but I will mention one of them as an example: In Maryland, employees of bowling alleys are entitled to time-and-a-half when they work more than 48 hours in a week.

Additional Restrictions Apply to Child Labor

There is one area where the FSLA does impose maximum work hours, and that is with school-aged minors.  Under the law, children between the ages of 14 and 16 may work no more than 3 hours on a school day and no more than 18 hours in a school week.  In a non-school week, they may work no more than 8 hours per day and 40 hours per week.  Federal law also imposes restrictions on when the work day may begin for minors.   In addition, many states have restrictions on child labor that go beyond federal law. 

So Heather, if you’re between the ages of 14 and 16, you might be able to get out of that 50-hour work week.  But if not, then it’s back to work, and yet another reason to lament the passing of youth!

Thank you for reading Legal Lad’s Quick and Dirty Tips for a More Lawful Life. Let me just conclude with a word about math, if you can believe it.  Algebra, to be precise.  Algebra can be tricky for a lot of people – but it doesn’t have to be. Check your confusion at the door and let Math Dude, Jason Marshall help you out in his new book, The Math Dude’s Quick and Dirty Guide to Algebra. Through brain teasers, “math-libs,” and quizzes – you’ll learn a ton of quick and dirty tricks that will have the answers sticking for years (and tests) to come. It’s available for download on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and iTunes.
You can send questions and comments to legal@quickanddirtytips.com. Please note that doing so will not create an attorney-client relationship and will be used for the purposes of this article only.

Boss image from Shutterstock


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