We often hear about labor laws and overtime, and the rights we have as workers when it comes to extended shifts, but do you actually understand what the US federal and state governments have mandated in their laws?
There is frequent confusion with what is and what isn’t legal when dealing with 40-hour work weeks, seven day work weeks and general overtime; this post delves into the truths and misconceptions of OSHA Employee Overtime Laws.
What is an Extended or Unusual Shift?
Let’s start by identifying what the government considers overtime. What we often refer to as overtime, OSHA labels as extended or unusual shifts. Essentially, an extended shift is one that lasts longer than eight consecutive hours and more than five days a week.
Although many of us regularly work overtime, OSHA states that extended shifts should ideally be used to maximize scarce resources like in response and recovery phases of emergency situations. Because emergency situations happen without warning, extended shifts ensure that the appropriate scarce resources are efficiently used.
How Many Hours Can You Work in a Day According to OSHA?
While there is currently no specific OSHA standard for extended or unusual shifts, the United States government did pass the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) in 1938. The FLSA sets overtime pay regulations, as well as minimum wage and occupational safety standards to ensure a safe and healthy work environment for everyone.
It’s important to note, however, that FLSA regulations only apply to companies that conduct more than $500,000 a year in business. If the company makes less than $500,000 and refrains from interstate commerce, they can exempt themselves from FLSA standards.
Is it Legal to Work 7 Days a Week?
The United States federal government does not set any rules regarding the number of hours or days you have to work to satisfy the employers’ requirements. This doesn’t mean that you don’t have rights however, you should look into your state’s specific laws and reread your employment agreement to see what shifts and times you agreed to work when you initially signed your contract.
State-Mandated Rest Days
Each state has specific laws on work weeks and overtime, so if you’re looking to understand what constitutes as legal, you will want to look at your state laws as opposed to federal laws. For example, Illinois has the “One Day Rest in Seven Act” that requires employers to give their workers 24 consecutive hours off each week. To see what laws your state has, visit the U.S Department of Labor website.
How Many Hours Is Overtime?
Although it’s legal for your employer to require you to work seven days a week, they do need to pay you appropriately for it – meaning overtime. For those employees who are covered by FLSA regulations, you’re entitled to time and a half (1.5 times your normal hourly wage) for every hour you work over a standard 40-hour work week. Basically, the 40-Hour Work Week Law states that time worked over 40 hours must be paid as overtime.
A common overtime misconception is that employers must pay you overtime for working on holidays and the weekend. According to the FLSA however, they don’t – unless actual overtime is worked on those days.
Although everyone wishes they could get overtime pay for the extra hours they work, there are some exceptions to the FLSA. The most common exception is salaried employees. Because they’re paid a fixed rate no matter how many hours they work, they won’t get paid any extra for working longer hours.
The other common exceptions to FLSA overtime are those who work in high-level management positions. If the employee makes more than $100,000 a year, and/or rarely visits the company facilities, they won’t be eligible for overtime pay.
It’s important to note that employers cannot handout managerial titles and salaried positions to avoid paying overtime. Government officials investigating potential overtime violations will perform on-site visits and account audits to determine what an employee’s actual responsibilities are and if a managerial title and salary make sense.
Overtime Pay Misconceptions
Unfortunately, it can be common for employers to take liberties with their definition of “on-the-clock”. If an employee is expected to be at work and ready to perform their duties, they need to be paid accordingly, even if they’re not actually working. An example of this is firefighters. They’re frequently at the fire station waiting to be called into duty, so they need to be paid for that time, even when they’re not actually fighting fires.
Likewise, employees that are on-call or taking regular rest breaks should be paid per FLSA overtime standards.
Overtime Health Concerns
Although it can be tempting to work as many hours as possible to get overtime pay (considering there is no limit on the maximum hours that can be worked per week), the speed and frequency of working overtime can be detrimental to your health. Extended shifts and excessive overtime hours can cause physical, mental and emotional stress and heavy-fatigue which can lead to further injuries.
Fatigue is your body’s way of telling you to rest. If not taken seriously, it can lead to irritability, reduced alertness, increased susceptibility, depression, and loss of appetite. It’s important to listen to what your body is telling you and respond accordingly. If you’re working too many hours, you will become tired and fatigued. If not immediately remedied, you could be facing long term health effects.
Employers and management are responsible for the health and well-being of their employees. Whenever possible, employers should limit an employee’s use of extended or unusual shifts to reduce the chances of reduced productivity and alertness. Additional breaks and meal times should be provided if extended and overtime shifts are required, as should time for adequate rest.
Managers and employers should also become familiar with the warning signs that an employee’s health is declining. If employees are frequently required to work overtime or irregular shifts, they should be diligently monitored for signs of fatigue. When an employee is fatigued, management should immediately direct them to a rest area for an extended break.
Understand your rights and responsibilities when it comes to overtime, extended and unusual shifts with the detailed information in our OSHA Outreach Training. Start your OSHA training course today!