Can an Employer Make You Work Overtime Without Notice?

Nov 11, 2022
By Peter Friedmann

Is It Legal for My Boss to Force Me to Work Overtime Without Notice?

Yes, federal and state laws allow employers to require unscheduled and mandatory overtime. As inconvenient and unwelcome as hearing, “I need you to work late today,” or “You’ll have to come in this weekend,” may be, such demands are perfectly legal.

The same laws that authorize unscheduled overtime, however, require employers to pay at least time-and-one-half to every employee who is eligible to earn overtime pay. This means you must be paid 1.5 times your regular hourly rate for all hours worked over 40 hours in one workweek.  Managers and supervisors only violate the rights of hourly workers when they force people to put in unpaid overtime.

Unfortunately, our Cleveland employment attorneys often hear from people who are required to work extended, double, and weekend shifts without warning and without the legally mandated overtime pay. Protecting yourself and securing unpaid wages are possible when you understand your rights under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), a federal law, and the equivalent state statutes.

Individual workers and groups of employees can file claims for unpaid overtime, called class or collective action lawsuits.

Know Who Qualifies to Earn Overtime Pay

Generally, employees who get paid by the hour and who are not responsible for managing or supervising coworkers qualify to earn overtime pay after working more than 40 hours during a 7-day workweek. Wait staff, bartenders and other people who regularly accept tips also typically qualify to earn overtime pay.  There are a few other exemptions to the FLSA such as administrative employees, professional employees and sales and computer professionals.

Too many employers attempt to withhold overtime by doing things such as:

  • Designating employees as independent contractors who have no FLSA protections,
  • Giving non-managerial employees bogus titles because salaried managers are exempt from earning overtime, and
  • Telling tipped employees they are not eligible for overtime.

In truth, the full set of rules and regulations for qualifying to earn overtime are complicated. Speaking with an experienced and knowledgeable employment lawyer can help you understand whether you are entitled to overtime pay and could stop your employer from using the complexity of the system to deny you overtime pay for all of the hours you work.

Do Not Let Managers Make You Work Off the Clock

Other tricks employers use to deny and withhold overtime include:

  • Offering compensatory time off in lieu of paying time-and-a-half,
  • Requiring prep work before clocking in,
  • Requiring closing work after clocking out, and
  • Treating certain shifts and tasks as voluntary instead of required.

These practices can be particularly pernicious and harmful to employees. The FLSA and related state laws permit each of these things in limited circumstances, but all are ripe for abuse by managers and supervisors.

For instance, workers are allowed to accept comp time. A violation of the FLSA occurs when any of the following occurs:

  • The employer fails to keep proper records of the overtime hours worked,
  • The employee is never granted time off or only granted a small percent of their comp time, or
  • The employer offers only comp time and never approves overtime pay.

Similarly, decades of FLSA case law confirm that employers can require employees to put on safety gear before starting a shift. Dressing time, often called “donning and doffing,” is rarely what the law calls compensable. Where an FLSA violation might occur when an employer requires a shift leader to inspect all their coworkers’ safety gear before allowing the shift leader to clock in.

A very common unpaid overtime complaint we hear from our Cleveland employment law clients is that managers tell them to clock out so they do not have more than 40 hours on their weekly timesheet. Such requests can come at any point during a shift, which might leave an employing working almost an entire extra day without earning the overtime they are legally entitled to receive. What Can I Do If I’m Not Getting Overtime Wages?

As a final example of how managers and supervisors can take advantage of the FLSA, employers are permitted to encourage workers to perform community service for organizations the company supports. A manager cannot, however, make volunteering a condition of keeping one’s job. An employee who is required to work at a company-sponsored event must be paid for that time, including any overtime that is accrued.

What is Mandatory Overtime?

Mandatory overtime refers to overtime hours that an employer requires an employee to work. This differs from voluntary overtime, where an employee freely chooses to work extra hours, often to earn additional pay.

With mandatory overtime, employees are obligated to work the extra hours as instructed by their employer. Employees may not have a choice in the matter and can face disciplinary action if they refuse the additional hours.

Mandatory overtime is typically used by employers when there are pressing or unexpected business needs, such as:

  • Meeting production or project deadlines
  • Covering for absent employees
  • Responding to emergencies or crises
  • Handling periods of high demand or workload

Employers may require employees to work overtime hours beyond their normal 8 hour workday or 40 hour workweek. The number of extra hours that can be mandated depends on federal, state and local labor laws as well as union contracts.

While mandatory overtime aims to meet business needs, it can negatively impact employee morale, work-life balance and health if used excessively or inappropriately. Employees forced to work excessive overtime may experience burnout, fatigue and heightened stress levels.

Federal Laws on Mandatory Overtime

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is the main federal law regulating mandatory overtime in the United States. Under the FLSA, non-exempt employees generally must receive overtime pay at 1.5 times their regular rate for hours worked over 40 in a workweek. However, the FLSA does not limit the number of hours employees over 18 can be required to work, so mandatory overtime is permitted as long as proper overtime pay is provided.

The FLSA overtime provisions apply to employees involved in interstate commerce or in the production of goods for interstate commerce. This covers most employees in the private sector. However, certain industries and classes of employees are exempt from overtime requirements, meaning mandatory overtime can be imposed on them without overtime pay. Exempt employees include executive, administrative, and professional workers paid on a salary basis over a certain earnings threshold, certain salespeople, and certain agricultural workers, among others. Employees of transportation industries are also frequently exempt from overtime pay requirements.

So in summary, while the FLSA provides baseline overtime protections to many employees, it does not limit mandatory overtime in all circumstances. Employers can require exempt employees to work overtime without additional compensation. However, mandatory overtime for non-exempt employees would require payment at time-and-a-half rates under federal law.

Now, let’s take a moment to look at some frequently asked questions that relate to mandatory overtime laws and if you can be forced to work overtime. 

How Will I Know if a Job Requires Overtime Hours?

Any job can require overtime hours.  If you are protected by the FLSA and do not fall within an exemption to the FLSA, you are entitled to be paid time and one-half for all hours worked over 40 hours in a workweek.

Can You Get Fired for Refusing to Work Overtime?

Yes, you can be fired for refusing to work overtime. Your employer is allowed to fire you for refusal to work mandatory overtime.

Can an Employer Force You to Work on Your Day Off?

Your employer can require that you work on your day off. You can refuse to work on your day off, but your employer will have the right to fire you if they wish to.

Along with federal and state mandatory overtime laws, it’s important to note that Ohio is an at-will employment state.  This means that either an employee or an employer can break off the employment relationship for any reason – so long as those reasons are legal.

Being required to work on your day off can seem extremely unfair, but it is legal.

How Much Notice is Required for Mandatory Overtime?

Currently, there are no laws that require your employer to provide you with a specific amount of notice for any overtime they request.

There are certain industries that have hourly restrictions on the number of continuous hours that an employee can work. For example, the trucking industry involves the operation of commercial vehicles. Employers in this industry will need to comply with relevant restrictions and ensure that any additional hours added to an employee’s schedule do not result in an employee working more than is permissible pursuant to state or federal law.

Unpaid wages and withheld overtime are more than legal violations. They exploit and financially harm workers that rely on that money to make a living and care for their families. Employers who engage in unfair and illegal pay practices must be held accountable. The Friedmann Firm strives to hold employers that violate the FLSA and Ohio’s wage and hour laws accountable.

You can connect with us online or over the phone at 614-610-9755 to schedule a free, confidential consultation today.