Can an Employer Make You Work Overtime Without Notice?

April 26, 2021
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 a law called the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) 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.

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

  • Calling employees 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 confirms 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 is 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.

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 for fully compensating the people they cheated.  The Friedmann Firm strives to hold employers that violate the FLSA and Ohio’s wage and hour laws accountable.