Can you require your employees to work mandatory or forced overtime?

Most U.S. employers understand that if an employee is asked to work more than 40 hours in a week, they must be paid time and a half for each hour worked over 40, as described in the Standards Act. Fair Labor or FLSA. But did you know that time worked over 40 can be seen as mandatory or “forced” overtime?

Forced overtime is a catchy term, but it’s a phrase often used to describe mandatory overtime, which is any time worked in excess of 40 that is required by the employer.

The FLSA Federal Overtime Act

Overtime law, as described in the FLSA, does not prohibit you from requiring your employees to work mandatory overtime, so you can require your employees to work more than 40 hours as long as your employee is not under the age of 16 .

As an employer, you can decide to discipline or fire any employee over the age of 16 who refuses to work overtime if there is no contractual agreement restricting the employees’ hours of work, although I would not recommend taking such a harsh approach regardless of the Act. .

Here’s what to watch out for when it comes to mandatory overtime…

Exceptions to the Rule

  • There may be contractual agreements between an employer and a union in some work settings that require that employers may not require staff to work mandatory overtime.
  • Employers may be required to modify an individual’s schedule if the employee is protected by the Rehabilitation Act or the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In this case, you may need to modify your staff’s overtime schedule to accommodate your disability.
  • Your state may have its own mandate that supersedes the FLSA regarding overtime requirements.

Additional exceptions by state

Some states have placed limits on whether an employer can require mandatory overtime. For example, in California, an employee can decline mandatory overtime without penalty if he has worked at least 72 hours in the last work week.

However, if an employee is willing to work more hours, they may do so, as long as you pay your employee in accordance with the law. In addition, overtime cannot pose a security risk.

Sixteen states have restrictions on mandatory overtime.

These states include:

  1. California
  2. Alaska
  3. Connecticut
  4. Maryland
  5. Illinois
  6. Minnesota
  7. New Jersey
  8. Missouri
  9. NY
  10. new hampshire
  11. Pennsylvania
  12. Oregon
  13. Rhode Island
  14. West Virginia
  15. Washington
  16. Texas

Restrictions vary by state. Restrictions can take the form of imposing a limit on the number of hours an employee can work or prohibiting mandatory overtime in specific occupations (ie nursing). Several states prohibit employers from using mandatory overtime to compensate inadequate staff. It is always wise to consult with your particular state’s Department of Labor office, employment attorney, or human resources professional for clarification.

Is mandatory overtime really a good idea?

While there are clearly times when an employer needs to have staff on board due to unforeseen or special circumstances, it is not good management practice to require mandatory overtime.

Companies that force employees to work overtime may take the position that employees shouldn’t complain because they are paid a premium for their efforts. But what some employers fail to recognize is that, from the employees’ perspective, “surprising” them with a mandate to work beyond their regular hours without prior notice comes across as disrespectful to their staff who have other interests outside of the job. job. .

Forced overtime is a sure way to create employee morale problems and increase employee turnover.

Yes, everyone likes to earn a little extra money, but your focus should be balancing business needs with the needs of your employees whenever possible when considering mandatory staff overtime.

Employers should plan ahead as much as possible to address the need for overtime in the following ways based on their business needs:

  • Think and act strategically by understanding what your business’s peak hours are, then ask for volunteers who are willing to work overtime if needed.
  • Communicate to all candidates during your interview process that the position may require occasional requests to work overtime. Be as clear as possible about the hours of the week/month of the year when there may be a need for overtime, while also communicating that overtime is not guaranteed.
  • Remind all of your new hires during the onboarding process that overtime may be required, as discussed in the interview.
  • Ask employees if there is interest in overtime and create a list of employees who are open to last-minute overtime requests.
  • If there are more people interested in working 40+ hours in a week than there are overtime available, be fair in allocating the overtime. Don’t use overtime as a reward or punishment.
  • Provide occasional incentives for staff who work overtime, such as extra hourly shift differential, extra personal days, or company lunch or dinner.

Always show appreciation for staff who are able to work overtime, but don’t single out employees who are not available for overtime. Regardless of the law, do not punish employees who are not interested or available to work overtime.

Employers who approach overtime strategically and fairly will find that getting employees to work overtime, even in unforeseen circumstances, won’t be much of a challenge.

RELATED: Shady Overtime Policies

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