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Can Companies Force You to Work Overtime?

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Can companies force you to work overtime? The first time I asked myself this was a Friday afternoon, I’d worked my 40 hours for the week, even after clocking out for lunch and breaks.

I was looking forward to going home and doing some vacation planning, but someone on the second shift called out sick. My boss asked me to stay.

That day, I agreed because I could handle only a few hours more work before two whole days off. The extra money was also going to mean a better vacation.

However, I also started digging into the question at hand.

The Quick Answer


The federal-level Fair Labor Standards Act, or FLSA, does not limit how many hours any adult employee has to work per day, week, or consecutive days in a row. Adult employees can be required to work without limitations, whether they are classified as non-exempt or salaried-exempt. The employer is required to pay non-exempt employees 1.5x their regular rate of pay for overtime hours, but there is no limit to how many hours adult employees can be made to work.

Diving Into the Details


Can companies force you to work overtime? The quick answer I just provided you is the answer at the federal level. However, there are other factors in play.

What’s an Adult?

Notice how the quick answer says ‘adult employee’? In the federal-level legislation, an adult is listed as anyone 16 years old and up. However, many states have stricter laws, saying that adult employees are anyone a minimum of 18 years of age.

If that’s not complicated enough, some states muddy the waters by making exceptions to the ‘adult’ rule where:

  • Employees under the age of 18 might be allowed to work overtime if school is not in session.
  • Younger employees might be allowed to work more hours if it’s in a farm or agricultural setting.

I can’t possibly list every rule for every state here, so you’ll have to dig into that one if you have further questions.

Does Overtime Apply After 8 Hours in One Day?

Not necessarily, I’m afraid.

Some employers will do that as a benefit, but it’s not mandated by federal law. NOLO reports that certain states do require that, including Alaska and California.

Your only right to overtime pay at a federal level is after 40 hours in a single week of work. Other than that, it’s up to your employer and state.

Aren’t There Exceptions For Safety Reasons?

Federal regulations put restrictions on how many hours professionals can work in occupations that are deemed safety-sensitive. According to The Balance Careers, these include:

  • Certain marine personnel
  • Some railroad workers
  • Pilots
  • Nuclear power plant employees
  • Truckers
  • Some workers with disabilities

Can Employers Really Get Away With This?

For the most part yes. EpaySystems says that in most cases, employers can mandate as many as 100 hours of overtime, and even more before they commit federal law violations.

They’re not even required to give you notice if you’re a non-exempt employee. So long as there is no threat to your health or safety, you don’t get much say in the matter, as long as you get 1.5x your normal pay for every hour after 40 in one week.

Can You Refuse Overtime?

Some employers might let you do that, but federal law doesn’t require them to give you that right. They’re also not obligated to consider the impact overtime might have on your personal life and family responsibilities.

FindLaw reports that your boss can assign you overtime without doing any of the following:

  • Getting your permission
  • Asking you if you even want more hours
  • Allowing you to choose the overtime hours you work
  • Only giving overtime to workers who want it
  • Informing you of any rights you have to refuse

If you do refuse overtime as a non-exempt employee, you might be subject to:

  • Warning
  • Write-up
  • Suspension
  • Disciplinary action
  • Termination

I’ve personally always been wary of refusing overtime because I’ve usually worked in ‘at-will states. Employment in those states can be terminated immediately and permanently by most employers for any reason they see fit so long as it doesn’t involve discrimination or retaliation.

Before you ask, no, it’s not considered retaliation if they fire you for refusing overtime.

How Many People Have to Deal With This?

Whenever I was asked to work overtime, I honestly felt kind of singled out, like I was the only one in the world putting up with this. However, research shows that 20 percent of all employees are asked to work overtime regularly, and that number is going up.

What Are the Risks of Overtime?

Working America cites OSHA’s descriptions of how overexertion can result in fatigue. The potential symptoms include:

  • Decreased alertness
  • Depression
  • Digestive issues
  • Giddiness
  • Headache
  • Higher risk of illness
  • Irritability
  • Lack of concentration
  • Lacking motivation
  • Loss of appetite
  • Memory lapses
  • Sleepiness
  • Weariness

In Summary


Can companies force you to work overtime? In many cases, yes, but they can’t always do it whenever they want.

Knowing when you do and don’t have the right to decline is crucial. In my own case, I usually say yes to overtime. I try to be a team player and someone my boss can rely on.

Any bosses I’ve had that made unreasonable overtime requests were never people I worked for very long. Their payroll mismanagement usually got them transferred, demoted and fired soon enough.