What is Overtime Law?

By Teo Spengler - Updated April 16, 2018
Two workers wearing yellow hard hat and blue uniform

If you are working overtime, it means you are putting in more hours than are usual in a normal work week. But what's normal, and who gets to decide? The federal government is the main regulator in this area by virtue of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Many states just piggyback on that act, although some provide their residents with additional benefits. Most workers who are paid by the hour are entitled to one and one-half times the regular hourly rate when they work more than 40 hours in a seven-day work week.

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Overtime law describes the laws and regulations that determine when overtime pay is mandated and how to calculate that pay.

How Long Are You Legally Allowed to Work in a Day?

Neither the federal government nor the states dictate how many hours an employee is permitted to work in a day, a week, a month or a year. That is left to the employer and the employee to work out, as long as the employee is over 16 years of age.

However, the Fair Labor Standards Act and many state labor laws do require overtime. That is, covered employees must receive overtime pay of at least 1 1/2 times their regular pay if the boss asks for more than 40 hours of work in a work week. Several states offer even greater protection.

Overtime Laws by States

Many states simply base their overtime laws on the Fair Labor Standards Act, and even piggyback on that federal law. Some states provide additional and further protections, however.

California has some of the most generous overtime laws in the country. Rather than basing overtime solely on hours worked in excess of 40 a week, California also requires overtime pay for any hours worked over eight in one day, and any work days over six in a workweek.

The rate for overtime in California is one and one-half the employee's regular rate for any hours worked above eight in a workday, up to 12 hours. This also is the rate for the first eight hours worked on the seventh consecutive day of work in a workweek. However, the employer must pay double time for all hours over 12 worked in any workday and all hours worked above eight on a seventh consecutive day of work in a workweek.

In Colorado, employers must pay overtime for all hours worked in a week over 40, all hours worked in a day over 12, and all consecutive hours over 12. In Nevada, employees get overtime for every hour worked beyond 40 hours in a week or eight in a day.

Can You Be Forced to Work Overtime Without Notice?

An employee can be required to work overtime by her employer. The employer may dictate the employee's work schedule and hours, including overtime shifts, and an employee who refuses can be disciplined or even fired.

The Fair Labor Standards Act doesn't contain any provisions regarding how employees must be scheduled for work. Therefore, nothing in the law stops an employer from changing an employee's work schedule and adding overtime. Nothing in the law requires that the employer give prior notice or must get the employee's consent to make those changes.

However, the written employment agreement between the employer and employee or the employee's union may have provisions on this subject. A written agreement about the type of notice required for scheduling changes is perfectly enforceable.

About the Author

From Alaska to California, from France's Basque Country to Mexico's Pacific Coast, Teo Spengler has dug the soil, planted seeds and helped trees, flowers and veggies thrive. World traveler, professional writer and consummate gardener, Spengler earned a BA from U.C. Santa Cruz, a law degree from Berkeley's Boalt Hall, and an MA and MFA from San Francisco State. She currently divides her life between San Francisco and southwestern France.

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