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What Are Illegal Working Hours?

What Are Illegal Working Hours?

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What Are Illegal Working Hours?

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.

Overtime Hours

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.

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  • Which States Require Overtime Pay Beyond FLSA?

    When asking "what are illegal working hours," you might also want to consider state level requirements. Illegal working hours typically relate to not the volume of hours worked but a lack of pay for overtime hours logged. Certain states have implemented their own overtime and hours laws. These include Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin. 

    Make sure that you keep track of your working hours and are familiar with state level requirements. You may need this information as evidence in the event that you need to file a legal claim against your employer. If you can show that an employer should have known or was purposefully violating state or federal labor laws, you could have grounds to pursue a suit directly against that employer for these actions. Having proper evidence and understanding your next steps is very important because these cases are extremely complex and can make it difficult for you to return to work. You want to find a knowledgeable employment lawyer who has a background in this field and who can thoroughly review all of your evidence to tell you more about what you might expect.

  • Why Would an Employer Request Illegal Working Hours? 

    As an employee, it is primarily a responsibility to understand when your rights have been crossed. This gives you an opportunity to address the situation directly with your employer, but this does not always mean that this is where the conflict ends. There are a variety of different reasons why an employer might request that you work illegal hours. 

    You might start with the assumption that your employer does not realize they are asking you to do something illegal. They might not realize that stepping outside of your existing working hours or doing unpaid work could violate your rights, but it is still their responsibility to be aware of their ethical and legal duties to you as an employer. Not knowing about these issues does not give them permission to take advantage of you. Whether they are asking you to work illegal hours intentionally or unintentionally, they should be prepared to respond and to be held accountable in a court of law if necessary. 

    Of course, it can make it very difficult for you to continue working at the company if you raise these concerns and are not taken seriously. You might also want to meet with a knowledgeable employment lawyer to discuss your opportunity to file a legal case. If your employer corrects the situation when it’s presented to them but you still have concerns about back pay, you should see if you are owed for other times you were asked to work illegal hours. 

  • What if I Am Discriminated Against?

    Sometimes, it could be the case that you were the first employee to raise these concerns to your employer. This puts you in a difficult situation if your employer does not take it seriously or tries to threaten you. You have the legal right to speak up when you believe that your employer is crossing the line into illegal territory, particularly when it harms other employees as well. 
    This area of the law is extremely complex and might even involve whistleblower protections if you attempt to communicate with government agencies or address legal working hours or other discriminatory practices. Since these are serious issues, you should always proceed with caution and with the advice of an experienced employment lawyer. 

    Even seemingly small mistakes in your attempt to address these issues outright with your employer could lead to problems. In the event that you want to protect your rights to pursue compensation and hold your employer accountable to stop this illegal working hours activity, you need to be cautious about how you collect evidence and how you raise these concerns. Documenting everything can help you in the event that this goes forward into a lawsuit. 

    If you have already been a victim of illegal working hours and you want to take legal action, you can’t afford to wait. Contact Morgan & Morgan for a free, no-obligation case evaluation. Setting up a time to speak with an employment lawyer should be your next and first step towards protecting your rights and stopping this activity. 

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Last updated on May 31, 2023

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