Employers have to follow a myriad of rules and requirements in order to meet compliance requirements by industry or by law at the local, state, or federal level. When an employee suffers because an employer did not follow these rules, the employee might have grounds to open a lawsuit.
Most employees have a general idea of their basic rights but might not be able to tell when something is an issue of preference or a legal right. For example, when it comes to illegal working hours, an employee should be aware that there are not widespread federal rules about when people can and can’t work. However, within particular industries, there are rules about when people should have a meal or rest break.
Defining Illegal Working Hours
In general, an employee and an employer will agree to reasonable working hours when the working relationship starts. This means the employee should either know the specific hours they’ll be asked to work every single week or that this will be explained in a range. Either way, both parties should know what will be expected on an ongoing basis.
Often, illegal working hours refer to situations in which the employee is asked to extend beyond what both parties have agreed to or when an employee is asked to work even though they will not receive pay for that time.
Employees covered under state and federal laws have reasonable rights regarding working hours. When trying to figure out what illegal working hours are, you need to consider both federal implications as well as the impact of state law.
Many labor laws are governed at the state level, meaning that you will need to investigate whether or not the company in your case has violated state-specific rules. Each state maintains the right to create and update these rules so you will need to carefully think through those aspects before communicating with an attorney. When seeking out information on legal working hours, start by looking at the US Department of Labor and the Fair Labor Standards Act. These are primary sources of information about general laws impacting workers.
Illegal Working Hours and Sleeping Time
At the federal level, sleeping time and certain other activities are governed by the Fair Labor Standards Act. An employee who is required to be on duty for less than 24 hours is considered to be working even if they are allowed to engage in other personal activities or sleep when not busy. An employee who has been required to be on duty for 24 hours or longer can work directly with their employer to exclude those hours worked bonafied regular sleeping periods of no longer than 8 hours provided that adequate sleeping facilities are provided by the employer and that the employee can get through an uninterrupted night's sleep in that location. At least 5 hours of sleep must be taken for the reduction to be eligible.
The Fair Labor Standards Act classifies illegal overtime working hours as to when an employee is entitled to overtime pay but does not receive the pay associated with working additional hours.
Any work beyond 40 hours over a total 168 hour period is classified as overtime because the typical American workweek is 40 hours.
The Fair Labor Standards Act covers employees in industries, such as day workers, housekeepers, hospitals, institutions involved in caring for the sick or disabled, schools for the mentally ill, disabled or gifted children, preschools, elementary, secondary schools, and higher education institutions, local state and federal government agencies, full-time babysitters, chauffeurs, and cooks.
When it comes to overtime pay, there is no legal limit to the number of hours that a person can work each week, but the Fair Labor Standards Act does cover overtime pay standards in both the public and private sectors. In a given work week, this act requires employers to pay a wage of 1.5 times the employee's normal pay rate after they have completed 40 hours of work in that week.
Night work or weekend work does not qualify automatically for overtime pay unless it is also over the mandated 40 hours. The same rules do not always apply to minors and certain industries and professions are exempted. Nurses, doctors, policemen, and firefighters, for example, are often excluded from earning overtime pay for these reasons.
Employees can also be registered as administratively exempt by accepting a flat salary for a job that could require working beyond extended hours. Certain types of work and industries are also exempt from the United States Department of Labor requirements, including certain small newspapers, people employed on foreign sea vessels, administrative executive and professional employees, railroad and air carrier employees, and many more.