The standard workday is eight hours, but for most employees, this standard comes from social convention, rather than law. In some industries, longer or shorter work days are the average, such as in the restaurant industry, where servers might work a five-hour lunch shift or be required to work a “double” – a ten-hour or longer shift that has them working through multiple meal periods. In Ohio, there is no state law that universally requires work shifts to be a specific length or for employees to have a specific number of hours off between shifts.
In Ohio, there is no legal requirement for the number of hours off work between an employee's shifts.
State of Ohio Labor Laws
Ohio, like many other states, takes the bulk of its labor laws from the federal law. The primary federal law that governs the length of shifts and breaks, and the amount of time employees must have between shifts is the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. The FLSA states that covered employees age 16 and over can work up to 12-hour shifts. It also caps workweeks at 40 hours in a seven-day period, not including overtime.
In the state of Ohio, state labor laws are nearly identical to federal labor laws. There are no additional Ohio labor laws for shift length beyond those in the FLSA. This is not the case in all states; some states, like California, notably have much more stringent employee protection laws than those enforced by the federal government.
Under Ohio labor laws on shift length, adult employees in most industries can be required to work up to 12 hours per day. Some industries demand longer shifts than this, and in these industries, there are break requirements for employees who work shifts that are 24 hours or longer. When an employee works more than 24 hours, she must be paid for sleep and meal breaks unless she signed an agreement waiving this right. When sleep breaks are built into long shifts like this, employees must be paid for breaks that do not facilitate restful sleep, which are any sleep breaks less than five hours long.
Rules for On-Call Shifts
Additionally, Ohio labor laws regarding shift length do not impose limits on how many hours Ohio employees can be on call. When an employee is on call, he is not technically working, but may be called into work at any time and thus, must be alert, within a reasonable geographic distance to his workplace, and not under the influence of alcohol or other drugs during this time. When an employee is under restricted conditions, such as staying in a specific location, while on call, he must be paid for this time. When the employee is at home during on-call time, whether he has to be paid depends on the extent to which the employer’s restrictions keep him from using that time for his own purposes.
On-call time does not include break times. Whether it counts as hours worked for overtime pay purposes depends on the extent of the restrictions the employee faces during this time.
Federal Laws for Ohio Workers
Due to safety concerns, certain federal laws restrict the number of hours employees in certain industries and positions can work in a shift, in a day and in a workweek. One notable example of this type of law is the requirements that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration maintains for truck drivers. Truck drivers in every state across the nation must comply with these requirements.
Federal shift requirements for truck drivers include:
- Drivers cannot drive more than 11 hours per day.
- Drivers must take a 30-minute break for every eight hours driven.
- In total, a driver may only be on duty for 14 hours per day.
- Before a 14-hour duty period, a driver must have had 10 hours off duty.
Break Times for Ohio Employees
Like many states, Ohio’s labor laws come directly from federal labor law. This means that Ohio employers are not required to provide rest or meal breaks for employees age 18 and over. Following federal law, breaks that are less than 30 minutes in duration must be compensated, whereas breaks longer than 30 minutes do not have to be. For a rest or meal period to legally be considered a break, though, the employee must be free from all work-related responsibilities during that time.
When an employee is required or pressured to work through his unpaid break, the employer is violating his rights under the FLSA. Employees have the right to take legal action against employers through wage and hour claims filed with their state-level worker protection boards, as well as the U.S. Department of Labor.
Shift Hours and At-Will Employment
Ohio is an at-will employment state, which means that employers in Ohio can terminate employees without notice, for any reason at all – except for reasons that violate the employees’ rights, like the right to earn at least the state's required minimum wage for all work performed or the right to a workplace free from discrimination.
When employees of a certain race, gender, religious background or other characteristics are given favorable work schedules, longer breaks or more hours than employees of other backgrounds, an0ther employee may allege that discrimination has occurred and pursue compensation for related damages through an employment discrimination claim. Some of the specific employee rights related to shift lengths are:
- The right to unionize and collectively bargain for better working conditions.
- The right to reasonable accommodations for disabled employees.
- The right to reasonable accommodations for pregnant and nursing employees.
Similarly, paying certain employees for their break times but not paying others may be deemed an act of discrimination. Employees may take legal action against discrimination by filing discrimination claims with state and federal authorities. When an employee is fired for taking such an action, the firing may be deemed a wrongful termination. Wrongful terminations are those that occur for illegal reasons. When they occur, employers may be liable for the victims’ related damages.
Ohio Labor Laws for Minors
Ohio labor laws for minors’ breaks are different from its laws for adult workers’ breaks. Many states, like New Jersey, impose break requirements for workers under 18 despite not imposing such breaks for adult workers. In Ohio, employees younger than 18 must be given a 30-minute meal break for every five hours worked. Ohio labor laws for minors’ breaks do not require that employees be paid for these 30-minute breaks, but during break time, the employees must be completely free from work responsibilities.
Understanding Employee Rights
Although employees must comply with their employers’ workplace requirements, they nevertheless have certain rights in the workplace, which include the right to:
- Not be required to work shifts longer than 12 hours in most cases.
- Be completely free from work duties while on unpaid breaks.
- Enjoy the same right to breaks as their colleagues.
- Collectively bargain for improved working conditions.
Beyond these rights, Ohio’s labor laws grant employers a great deal of leeway regarding the demands they can make of their employees. To ensure that their rights are protected, employees should be aware of the Ohio labor laws, including any specific legal areas that apply directly to them, such as the laws that govern minors’ breaks.