Question about overtime for exempt workers in the US

Let’s say we have an exempt, salaried worker who doesn’t normally work 40 hours per week, like a teacher or professor.

  1. Can the employee still claim abuse of labor law if they are required to work (for example) 7 days a week, or evenings, or other times not originally stated in the contract?

  2. Is there any limit to how much the employer can force the employee to work? Let’s say the teacher signs a contract to teach 20 hours of class per week, but then the employer then requires 60 more hours of labor outside of class. Can they legally do this, and is there any way to stop them?

I am not sure where you are but the vast majority of exempt employee in the U.S. don’t work under a formal legal contract. That most commonly applies to union workers and many teachers are in a union but I am not sure if you are interested in teachers specifically or you are just using that as an example.

This question is most directly determined by state and not federal law so you could end up with a lot of different answers. In general, most states are “at will” work states for exempt employees meaning that the employer can ask anything from you but the flip-side is you can just out the door as an employee as well. An employer can ask you to work insane hours if they want to. It happens all the time in project based work like IT when things fall behind schedule and there isn’t much the employee can do about it unless they can negotiate some agreement with their boss.

There are some other issues to take into account as well. Companies often have employee handbooks that cover some of their internal policies. There obviously can’t be any type of discrimination either.

As **Shagnasty **said. “Exempt” pretty much means exempt from regulations.

Assuming no union, the employer and employee are free to do whatever they mutually agree to, whether tacitly or explicitly.

IOW, the boss asks for 100 hours a week, and you either agree or not. If you agree, you work 100 for your fixed salary. If not, you either quit or work less and wait for the boss’es next move. There isn’t any law or government agency policing your private de-facto agreement.

You’ll often find caseworkers (both public and private agencies) who, according to their protocols (minimum time per visit, etc.) have caseloads that can’t possibly be taken care of in a 40-hour week.

I disagree that most teachers or professors don’t work at least 40 hours per week. They may have fewer than 40 “core hours” when they report to a worksite, but the total hours worked are and have historically been at least 40 per week.

You are referring to someone who has signed a contract. This is not the case for the vast majority of salaried, exempt workers. The courts will enforce the terms of contract, generally speaking. If there is a contract, read the contract.

If, like the vast majority of salaried exempt workers, there is no contract, there is no limit on the amount of work that can be required. In fact, even for covered, hourly workers, the limit is not on the number of hours that can be required but hours over 40 must be paid at time and a half. The only exception would be professions regulated for safety in terms of maximum shift length, required rest periods, etc. Those limits are generally enforced by safety agencies, not labor agencies, and AFAIK do not apply to any positions in education.

While state law pays a role, the federal Fair Labor Standards Act really does lay this out for most situations not covered by contracts.

Correct. There may be some form of written document, but the HR lawyers will be very careful not to use the term “contract” anywhere as that gives the employee rights.

From our “Terms of Employment”.

As you can see, it defines the norm, but allows any and all other possibilities.

Hell, the letter I got confirming that I’d been hired said somewhere in it “this letter does not constitute a contract.”

It gets better: the company is now asking workers to work through lunch, 2-3 times a week.

The question is, are the employees really exempt? The employer can’t just wave a magic wand and make them exempt, there are specific criteria. Here’s an article explaining how exempt status is determined.

One of the weirdest things I have ever heard related to this was at my last company. They were working us so much that the lower-level analysts kept quitting because they didn’t get paid that much in the first place. The company decided to pay them half-time for late nights and weekends. That wasn’t a typo. They got a form of overtime but it was only half of their normal salaried rate spread among the extra hours they worked. There would be no way I would have thought that would be legal but the company in question is one of the biggest HR consulting companies in the U.S. so I guess they knew what they were doing. I was a senior employee and didn’t get anything extra but I almost preferred it that way on principle.

One thing I believe is true about this. Even if you are exempt you cannot be paid less than minimum wage. So the company cannot cause you to work so many hours that you get less then the government mandated mininum wage. The trouble is documenting and keeping track of the number of hours you are working. I worked for a company that paid me $200/week for something like 50hrs/week. They got stung by the govt and had to go back and pay for overtime. In my personal case the manager only documented that we worked 40hrs a week so I got zilch extra.

Well you have to realize things vary from state to state, but I can tell you how it is in Illinois.

First of all Illinois has a no seven consecutive CALENDAR work week law. What this means is you can’t work seven CALENDAR days in a row. This applies to salary or wages.

BUT… And there’s always a but :slight_smile: it’s CALENDER days.

This is illegal in Illinois

Work, Sun, Mon, Tue, Wed, Thurs, Fri, Sat.

This is NOT illegal in Illinois

OFF - Sun and Mon

Work - Tue, Wed, Thu, Fri, Sat (Now a new Calender week starts on Sunday), Sun, Mon, Tue, Wed, Thu

OFF - Fri, Sat

So you see in the above example you can work ten stright days in a row, as long as they are not calendar weeks which run Sun - Sat.

In Illinois the employment law basically reads, unless there is a law to the contrary the employer can do what he likes.

Here’s an example:

There is no law in Illinois preventing an employer from requiring an employee has a beeper or cell phone with him 24/7

This would mean an employee is on call basically all the time. But since there is no law in Illinois PEVENTING THIS, it is legal to do so.

Salaried employees have rules. First of all you can’t just take a waged employee and put him on salary to save on overtime. The rules vary from state to state, but their are conditions to be met to put someone on salary. And it’s not just title. For instance, Illinois courts have ruled secretaries can’t be made salary automatically but if the secretary has enough responsibility such as overseeing other admins or is the admin asst to the CEO the it IS possible for that person to be salary.

Now these rules do not apply to union and other negotiated contracts. You can’t contract for things that are agaisnt the law, but you can modify them. For instance in Illinois Registerd Nurses are on a two week schedule to determain overtime, not one week.

I do payroll and what most people fail to realize is salaried people are paid everyday on most payroll systems.

For instance in my last job instead of paying a salary person M-F eight hours per day, we paid them 5.714 hours Sun - Sat. So technically they were being paid on days they never showed up for work and they were working more than 5+ hours M-F.

The best way is to go online to your state labor board. Most have a division called “wages and hours.” There you can genearlly ask your question and they will get back to you. Illinois has and it takes about a week to get your anwer.

That is legit in California (for bonafide exempt employees), California generally has the most liberal workplace rules in the nation, it stands to reason it would fly anywhere else in the Union.

The One Day Rest In Seven act does not apply to “Employees who are employed in a bonafide executive, administrative, or professional capacity or in the capacity of an outside salesman, as defined in Section 12 (a) (1) of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act”

I would venture a guess that Sec. 12(a)(1) of the FLSA is exactly where “exempt employees” are defined for the purpose of overtime rules.

Of couse even with exempt employees there may be laws (Even non union pilots have manditory rest limits)

And I hope most states have limits for exempt employees (can a business require an employee be in the office 24/7/365 ? )


In theory, yes. Pilots and other fields, like healthcare, have limits on their hours due to safety reasons - not for their personal health, but the safety of those they serve, their patients and passengers.

Exempt means not covered by the laws. In other words, exempt from the laws.

I’m not familiar with every nuance of all the state laws, but for practical purposes in most of the US, for exempt employees, it’s “all you can work for one low, low price.”

At will employment means that the employer can’t literally make you work the hours (like slavery or indentured servitude), but can cease to employ you if your work is not satisfactory, which would include not working sufficient/ requested hours. Where employment is not at wll, there is typically a contract spelling out penalties for failing to meet requirements of the contract.

Shagnasty, if employees are truly exempt by the nature of their work, there’s nothing stopping the employer from paying them extra. The employer just isn’t legally required to make those payments. When they FLSA was clarified in 2004 it became less risky to do this, because the difference between non-exempt and exempt was more clear.

OK, if we take exempt off the table, what’s the employee’s options?

Worst case scenario:
Employer asks for X, employee refuses, employer doesn’t renew the employee’s contract, effectively firing them.

Or, employer asks for X, employee does it, employer asks for Y, then Z, etc.

There aren’t many contracts for exempt type jobs in the U.S. It is capitalism at its best and worst as a general rule. Employers can’t just abuse people with special skills that they need anytime they want because people will quit and find another job. You can get deep into philosophy and economics with this type of reasoning. If you are an employee with skills that lots of other people have, your employer can do whatever they want because there are always people lined up to take your place. On the other hand, there are people with skills that are essential and so rare that the employee always has the upper hand. It is like a poker game.

This is common in the video game industry.

It’s called “Crunch” and is defined as a company wide policy instituted when needed with the specification of hours.

Usually it’s 60 to 80 with 80 and weekends being the norm.

It’s usually done for discreet periods of time, but can commonly last anywhere form 6 months to a year.

Crunch is normally uncompensated, but occasionally people get a few days off.

Ive been given 2 days for 3 months of 80 Hour crunch weeks before. Sometimes they cover food for the employees.

And yes, refusal to crunch is grounds for dismissal.

Its a difficult and painful reality that taxes the moral, physical and mental health of the employees.

Medical problems are routine.