Can an Employer Force You to Work Overtime?

Sponsored by What's this?
Employees working overtime
Photo: Tetiana Lazunova / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Do you have to work overtime if your boss asks you to? Employees often wonder if they have to say “yes” when they are asked to work overtime.

What happens if you have other commitments or don’t want to work the extra hours? There are some exceptions, but you may not have the option to opt out.

Review information on when employers can require employees to work mandatory overtime, exceptions to overtime requirements, and pay for overtime work.

Key Takeaways

  • Federal law doesn't restrict mandatory overtime except for workers under the age of 16, employees protected by the American Disabilities Act, and workers in some safety-sensitive occupations.
  • Some state laws regulate the number of overtime hours employees can work.
  • Union bargaining agreements or employment contracts may stipulate limits on mandatory overtime.
  • The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires non-exempt workers to be paid 1.5 times their regular rate of pay for every hour of overtime they work.

Can Your Employer Make You Work Overtime?

There are no federal laws prohibiting employers from mandatory overtime except for workers under 16 years old and in a few safety-sensitive occupations.

In general, with some exceptions, if your employer asks you to work overtime, including extended shifts or weekend hours, you will be required to do so unless you are covered by a collective bargaining agreement or another employment contract that stipulates any limitations on the overtime hours you are required to work.

Check with your human resources department or state department of labor for overtime regulations that cover your employment.

Pay for Mandatory Overtime

The Fair Labor Standards Act requires employers to pay time-and-a-half to any non-exempt employees who work more than 40 hours in a workweek. Employers are not required to pay overtime to exempt employees.

Classification of employees as exempt or non-exempt is a complicated process. Many employers, especially smaller employers without adequate human resource staffing, inadvertently or intentionally fail to categorize employees accurately. If you have questions about your employer’s compliance, carefully review the department of labor overtime regulations.

State Limits on Overtime

Some states limit how many hours some employees can work, including Alaska, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Washington, and West Virginia.

Consult your state department of labor to learn about any laws that might impact your occupation.

Federal Limits on Overtime

Federal regulations restrict the number of hours that can be worked in safety-sensitive occupations, such as pilots, truckers, and nuclear power plant staff, as well as certain railroad and marine personnel.

Employers with workers protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) may be required to limit an employee’s overtime to reasonably accommodate a disability.

Employment Contracts and Overtime

Some unions or individuals will negotiate collective bargaining agreements or employment contracts that prohibit employers from requiring overtime.

Employer Overtime Policies

Some employers have enacted policies that place restrictions on the amount of overtime that is permissible. In those cases, workers can discuss working overtime with supervisors or human resources representatives and request clarification of the policy.

Seasonal and Cyclical Patterns for Overtime

Some employers require overtime only during peak seasons when worker productivity must be maximized. In other cases, organizations increase overtime when there is a shortage of workers during expansion or an unanticipated upswing in the company's business.

If you are new to the employer, ask veteran employees about the regular cycles for overtime so that you don't make too big an issue out of a transitory phenomenon.

Conduct Due Diligence Prior to Accepting a Job Offer

If you are concerned about the number of overtime hours required in a prospective job, make an effort to investigate practices at that employer prior to finalizing an employment agreement.

The ideal time to do so will usually be after you have made your case and an offer has been made. Speak with potential colleagues and inquire about the number of hours that they typically worked and their perception of management’s expectations. Ask your prospective supervisor about their expectations. Review any company policies through human resources.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What can I do if I can't work mandatory overtime?

Highly valued employees may be able to negotiate arrangements with their employer to avoid working overtime. You might consider asking to discuss your situation with supervisors in a confidential setting and cite any legitimate concerns, like eldercare or childcare responsibilities, or health concerns that make it difficult for you to work extra hours.

How will I know if a job requires overtime hours?

Some employers mention overtime requirements in job postings. You can also ask about overtime work requirements when you're interviewing or considering a job offer. Don't say that you can't work overtime, because it could preclude you from getting a job offer. Instead, simply ask if the job typically requires overtime. Then you'll be able to be an informed decision if you receive a job offer.

Was this page helpful?
The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Department of Labor. "Overtime Pay."

  2. U.S. Department of Labor. "Overtime."

  3. U.S. Department of Labor. "Exemptions."

  4. Wage Advocates. "18 States Restrict Mandatory Overtime By Law."

  5. Federal Motor Carrier Administration. "Summary of Hours of Service Regulation."

  6. Job Accomodation Network. "Overtime Restrictions and the ADA."

Related Articles