Work Week Definition Under Federal Law

Work Week Definition, Federal Law
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An American work week doesn’t necessarily constitute five or six days, although that's the case on many jobs, and the federal definition doesn’t guarantee a day of rest either, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.


The work week comprises all hours an employee is required to be on duty at an office or other location. A typical employee’s weekly work week lasts between 35 and 44 hours; extended work weeks can stretch to between 45 to 99 hours, according to the department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.


A work week, for some people, can be Monday through Friday, or it can be Monday through Saturday—and depending on the job, particularly in the media, a work week can span certain hours on all seven days, from Sunday through Saturday. When a recession hit the U.S. late in 2008, employers increasingly cut work weeks from five days—typically Monday through Friday—to four days, ending the week's work for many on Thursday.

Work Day

The work day generally begins when people begin their compensated duties; it ends when employees cease this “principal activity,” according to the department’s website, which notes that a work day can exceed a scheduled shift or set number of hours. In this event, overtime may be awarded, although some "creative" jobs, such as those in the newspaper industry, do not legally have to be paid overtime. Employees who work at a fudge-packing factory, for instance, would be paid for all hours that they packed fudge; however, their work day would exclude time spent at lunch.


Despite an employee’s possibly unceasing productivity in an office–or otherwise being on the job–during the work day, an employer must only compensate hours spent on predefined tasks. For instance, home-to-work travel before the work day commences is not compensated time. However, the work day does include traveling from home to work on a special, one-day assignment in another city; the same is true for travel that is the principal activity of work, and travel that keeps an employee away from home overnight, during an employee’s regular shift or hours worked, according to the department.


Some employees have greater control over when they arrive and leave the work place; executives and administrators typically have greater flexibility, as opposed to operators, laborers, firefighters and police officers with set hours, according to the bureau.