Many workers are aware of the fact that they must be paid overtime – at the rate of 1.5 times their regular hourly pay – for all hours worked in excess of 40 during a week. But many employees are unsure about whether their employer can force them to work more than 40 hours per week.

Is mandatory overtime legal?

It depends on whether federal law is at issue or the laws of one of the states. Understanding your rights is important to ensure you aren’t taken advantage of and that you are fairly compensated. The Lore Law Firm takes a look at this issue.

Mandatory Overtime Under the FLSA

The Fair Labor Standards Act, or FLSA, is the principal body of federal law that governs overtime matters throughout the United States. The FLSA does not set a maximum limit on the number of hours that an employer can require its employees (aged 16 or older) to work. This means that an employee who refuses to work mandatory overtime can be disciplined for failing to do so. Discipline may include reassignment, demotion, or even termination from the work.

There are some narrow exceptions to this law. For instance, the Department of Transportation limits how many hours a truck driver can be on the road before needing to rest. But if you do not work in one of the few industries that limits your number of hours, you must work the hours assigned to you or face possible discipline from your employer.

Although the FLSA does not set a rule concerning mandatory overtime, it does require that overtime work be compensated at the rate of 1.5 times a non-exempt worker’s regular hourly pay. So, for example, if you work 50 hours in a given week, you must be paid 40 straight time hours (at your regular pay rate) plus 10 overtime hours (at the rate of 1.5 times your regular pay rate). Every work week must stand alone, so employers cannot average hours across multiple weeks to effectively reduce your number of overtime hours.

The FLSA sets the federal minimum standard that all states must follow. However, states are free to enact laws that are more advantageous for workers, including with respect to mandatory overtime. Any time there is a discrepancy between state and federal law concerning overtime, minimum wage, or related issues, the law that is more favorable to the worker prevails.

Mandatory Overtime in the 50 States

Each state has its own rules concerning overtime. Some simply defer to the federal standards set by the FLSA, while others include more generous provisions for workers. In some cases, states set mandatory overtime rules that apply to workers across the board; in others, there are limits that apply to particular industries. As one example, some states restrict how many hours per day a nurse can be required to work.

Most states follow the federal policy when it comes to mandatory overtime for employees generally. That is, most do not restrict the number of hours that employees can be required to work during a week. However, there are a few unique examples of state laws that limit how much an employee can be compelled to work. Here are some of them:

California. Employers can require their workers to put in overtime hours and can discipline and even fire them for not working those hours. But an employer cannot discipline an employee for refusing to work on the seventh day of a workweek. In fact, the employer can be penalized for causing or inducing an employee to skip a day of rest. Provided the employee understands this right to a day of rest, the worker may choose to not take it.

Illinois. State law requires employers to give their employees at least one full day (24 hours) of rest in every calendar week, starting Sunday and ending the following Saturday. There are some exemptions, such as:

  • White-collar workers (as defined by the FLSA)
  • State and federal government workers
  • Part-time employees who work 20 or fewer hours per week
  • Agricultural employees
  • Mining employees
  • Security guards

Maine. Employers cannot require their employees to work more than 80 hours of overtime in any consecutive two-week period. There are exceptions for salaried exempt employees, emergency and essential services, and agricultural workers, among others.

Nurses can refuse mandatory overtime beyond 12 hours in a day without fear of being disciplined for doing so. There are exceptions for emergency situations in which overtime work is necessary to ensure patient safety. But in these circumstances, a nurse must be permitted at least 10 consecutive hours of time off following the work period.

Maryland. As a general matter, mandatory overtime is permitted. However, in certain circumstances, mandatory overtime for nurses is prohibited.

New Hampshire. As with other states, there is no prohibition on mandatory overtime in New Hampshire except with respect to nurses. With some exceptions, nurses cannot be disciplined for refusing to work more than 12 hours in a single day. A nurse who is required to work more than 12 hours because of one of the exceptions (e.g. during a public health emergency) must then be permitted at least 8 consecutive hours of time off.

Other Situations In Which Mandatory Overtime May Not Be Allowed

The above states are not necessarily the only ones in which mandatory overtime is regulated or prohibited, and the laws are subject to constant revision. As the example with nurses shows, some states have industry-specific limits on the number of overtime hours an employer can require. In other cases, an employee may have the right to refuse overtime hours pursuant to a private employment contract, rather than state law.

If you have questions about whether your employer has properly compensated you for working mandatory overtime hours, let The Lore Law Firm take a look at your situation. Fill out our free and confidential client intake form today to get started.