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Can your employer make you work overtime "off the clock"?

Companies that hire staff on an hourly basis often carefully monitor their staffing costs. In retail settings, like restaurants and stores, the company may create staffing estimates based on the sales on the same day in the previous year. Managers will create a schedule that reflects that estimate and then call in additional workers if needed or send staff home when it's slow. They may specifically send home workers who are closer to reaching the 40 hour mark for the week to avoid overtime pay.

It is perfectly legal to carefully schedule workers to avoid overtime pay. It's also legal to restrict overtime hours. Sometimes, however, unscrupulous managers will try to manipulate workers in unpaid overtime labor. These managers may ask workers to clock out and then continue working. When that happens, employees need to stand up for themselves and refuse to work without adequate overtime compensation.

Federal law mandates that employers pay hourly staff overtime

The Fair Labor Standards Act is quite clear about the obligation to pay workers overtime. Any time worked beyond 40 hours, even a few minutes, must receive compensation at a rate of at least 150 percent of the standard hourly wage. Given that overtime pay can quickly cause staffing costs to increase, many businesses prefer to avoid overtime pay if possible.

It is perfectly reasonable to schedule workers for exactly 40 hours or just under 40 hours to avoid overtime pay. It is also reasonable to demand that management must approve any overtime hours workers. It is absolutely not legal or appropriate to demand that workers who exceed 40 hours in a pay period eschew receiving overtime pay or work without compensation.

Knowing when your work week starts helps you determine if you deserve overtime

Although many companies have standard work weeks that run from Monday through Sunday, often with pay day on Friday, the start of a pay period is flexible. Employers have the right to start and end the workweek on any day of the week or time of day they choose. However, the start and end times for the workweek should remain fixed from week to week.

So long as your pay period consists of seven consecutive days (or 168 hours) and remains the same from one pay period to the next, you can reliably track when you work more than 40 hours. Your employer cannot change the beginning or end of pay periods to manipulate the system and avoid paying you overtime compensation.

If your employer refuses to pay overtime wages but still demands that you work extra hours, he or she is in violation of the law. Workers should receive compensation for all the hours they work. You may have to take legal steps to stand up for your rights and collect owed and unpaid overtime wages.

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