The Rules of Overtime

by Elizabeth on July 9, 2012 · 4 comments

For the past six and a half years, my husband has logged, on average, 43 hours a week on the job. He’s an hourly worker – at the sheriff’s office where he works, you don’t reach the salaried positions until you hit the rank of sergeant – yet he’s never paid for working overtime. “Shouldn’t you be getting time and a half for those extra hours?” I’d lament to him every other Friday when his paycheck would show up in our bank account. Our conversations usually went something like this:

Me: “But you worked 86 hours – shouldn’t you get paid overtime for six of them?”

Him: “Nope.”

Me: “But why?”

Him: “Don’t know.”

And that was the end of that.

Knowing The Law

As a law enforcement officer, my husband knows that you can’t run a red light (you should, too). He knows that you can’t ride a horse drunk (it’s considered a DUI in our neck of the woods). He also knows that you can possess counterfeit goods, but not stolen goods. What he doesn’t know is labor law – specifically, what determines whether or not you earn overtime. I didn’t know those laws either, but I was determined to find out. In my mind, I was convinced that my husband was being jipped the time-and-a-half he earned during those six hours of working overtime every two weeks.

The law that governs whether someone does or does not earn overtime pay is the Fair Labor Standards Act, or FLSA. The FLSA applies to nearly 130 million American workers, including full-time, part-time, private sector, and public sector employees. It covers people who work in retail, manufacturing, and the service sectors; if even covers domestic workers like housekeepers and nannies, provided they work a minimum number of hours a week or earn more than a certain amount a year from a single employer.

What it does not include, I was surprised to learn, is law enforcement officers. According to the Department of Labor:

“The Act does cover the following regardless of their dollar volume of business: hospitals; institutions primarily engaged in the care of the sick, aged, mentally ill, or disabled who reside on the premises; schools for children who are mentally or physically disabled or gifted; preschools, elementary and secondary schools, and institutions of higher education; and federal, state, and local government agencies.”

See that part at the very bottom, about government agencies? My husband’s employer – the local sheriff’s office – is housed under the county government, making it an agency and, hence, exempts my husband from receiving overtime pay, regardless of how many hours he works in any given week. Heck, he could work 60 hours in a single week (which he has, on occasion), and never receive a lick of extra money.


The Rules of Overtime

The FLSA, however, is the federal set of standards for overtime; each state’s department of labor is also allowed to create it’s own set of overtime rules, provided they don’t infringe on those set by the federal government.

  • For example, in California, nonexempt workers who work between eight and 12 hours in a single work day are eligible to receive time-and-a-half pay for anything over eight hours; you’ll receive double-time for anything beyond 12 hours.
  • Minnesota’s version of the FLSA has fewer exemptions, which mean more employees are eligible to receive overtime pay. Minnesota law requires employers to compensate most workers who are on the job more than 48 hours a week.
  • The state of Illinois legally restricts “comp time” under its overtime rules. The law makes it illegal to offer an employee paid time off in place of overtime for workers in the private sector.

(Want to see your state’s overtime rules? The National Conference on State Legislatures has a great table that maps out the maximum requirements for overtime for all 50 states.)

Give Me A Break

Not only do most states have laws that determine who is eligible for overtime – and how much they receive – but they also have rules that govern how often workers get a break. For example, Colorado requires employers to give workers a 30-minute meal break after a maximum of five hours on the job; workers are guaranteed a 10-minute break after a maximum of four hours on the job. Georgia is one of the few states that protects a mother’s right to take an unspecified, unpaid break to breastfeed her baby. More than half of the 50 states fail to give workers any type of guaranteed break – paid or unpaid – during the work day.

State laws also regulate whether or not workers should receive a mandated “day of rest.” Illinois has the One Day Rest In Seven Act, which guarantees that workers cannot work more than six days in a single week. Employers in Illinois can mandate overtime, unless it interferes with the day of rest – which, by the way, doesn’t have to be on a Sunday (regardless of what the Old Testament says). But not every state has a law like this; while Illinois does, neighboring Indiana and Iowa do not. Neither does North Carolina, which explains why my husband once worked an astonishing 11 straight days – and still failed to earn a single penny of overtime pay.

Reader, how often do you work more than 40 hours a week? Are you compensated for it, or are the extra hours just a part of your job?

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Roshawn @ Watson Inc July 10, 2012 at 12:28 am

For my primary job, it varies. Last week, I definitely worked more. Most weeks are pretty reasonable. I am not complaining. It all works out. My primary position is salaried.


2 Josh @ Live Well Simply July 10, 2012 at 10:48 am

If there’s anyone that should qualify for overtime pay, it’s a police officer. Our society is a bit backwards that way. Front line workers like EMT, Police, Fire, Medical and Teachers should be paid top dollar instead of the greedy financial sector workers.


3 MakintheBacon$ July 21, 2012 at 9:46 pm

I work over 40 hours every week. I am paid a yearly salary and we have the option of using the overtime hours as time in lieu or cashing out. I often take the cash, because I like getting an extra paycheque at the end of the month. :)


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