Mandatory Overtime Laws: Everything You Need to Know

Federal mandatory overtime laws allow employers to require their employees to work overtime. Federal law does not prohibit this requirement by employers.

If an employee refuses to work mandatory overtime required by the employer, the employer has the right to terminate the employee.

Because some state laws give more rights to employees, it is important to check with the Department of Labor to clarify what limitations may or may not be in place regarding mandatory overtime.

While the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) handles most jobs descriptions, there are exceptions including administrative, computer personnel, farm or ranch workers, youth counselors for children, seamen, workers on water-bound vehicles, and salaried professionals.

For non-exempt employees being paid by the hour and covered by the FLSA, most, but not all, salaried employees are considered exempt. For salaried employees in a profession that puts them in the non-exempt category, these employees are eligible for overtime pay.

What Is the Pay Rate for Mandatory Overtime?

When an employer requires an employee to work more than 40 hours in a week, the pay rate should be calculated at time and a half based on the employee's regular per-hour wage plus 50 percent. For most jobs, this is the requirement set forth by the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Employers do not have a maximum limit on the number of hours they can ask an employee to work. This is true even if the work schedule is set at 40 regular hours per week as established by FLSA and the employee is being paid time and a half for any overtime hours they may be required to work.

How Does Mandatory Overtime Work With Union Contracts?

Due to collective bargaining agreements between an employer and union representatives or representatives for other types of employment contracts, an employer may be restricted to the amount of mandatory overtime they can ask for.

A violation by an employer of a collective bargaining agreement places the employer in the position of breaching the contract. This breach can result in the employer being subjected to a civil suit.

Some states have set limitations on the mandatory overtime laws. One such state is California where an employee is justified in refusing to work overtime without incurring a penalty if he or she worked 72 hours or more the previous week.

Other situations where mandatory overtime may be disputed include:

  • Working overtime violates a contract.
  • Overtime would create a health hazard.
  • The employee is not being paid according to state and federal law.

If an employee finds himself in a position where his work rights regarding overtime are in violation of a union agreement or employment contract and not in accordance with federal or state law, he should consult with an employment lawyer to understand his rights and possible solutions.

How Does the Federal Law Define a 40-Hour Week?

The Federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) was passed in 1938. The law, which has been amended many times since its start, is responsible for setting wage and hour limits. The FLSA is in place for employers who either have annual sales of over $500,000 or who are working in interstate commerce.

The FLSA law also:

  • Outlines the 40-hour work week.
  • Establishes the federal minimum wage.
  • Is responsible for child labor restrictions.

What Negative Impacts Result from Forced Overtime?

When an employer has an increase in their workload but has a shortage of skilled workers, their goal is to get the work out the door in the most cost-effective manner. To do this, employers generally have an overtime policy in place. By using their current employees to work extra hours to carry the workload versus hiring more employees, the employer saves time and money.

There is a downside to mandatory overtime, though. While extra pay is a positive result, the negative implications can take a toll in many ways.

  • Making overtime a requirement to keep one's job may negatively impact employee morale.
  • Mandatory overtime can also increase an employee's stress and fatigue levels.
  • Stressed and tired employees are not as productive as happy and rested employees.
  • Too much stress and fatigue may result in employees resigning.
  • Some employees may pursue legal help to find out if they have any legal recourse regarding mandatory overtime.

What Is the Difference Between Overtime Laws and Reporting Time Laws?

Laws pertaining to overtime are separate from laws pertaining to reporting time. In the case of overtime, the law requires an employer to pay the employee for hours worked whereas reporting time laws require an employer to pay the employee for straight time only.

The following is the regulation in California, which explains how the regular rate of pay is determined when working with reporting time versus overtime.

According to the State of California Department of Industrial Relations, when an employee reports to work but is not put to work or the work furnished is less than half of what he's accustomed to doing on a usual workday, the employer must pay the employee for half of the scheduled or usual day's work. Under no circumstances shall the employer pay the employee less than two or more than four hours compensation at their regular rate of pay.

If an employer requires an employee to return to work for the second time in any workday and the employee has access to less than two hours of work after reporting for the second time, the employer must pay the employee for two hours at his regular rate of pay.

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