With each passing year, the average work week seems to be getting longer. Back in the 1950s or 1960s, the 40-hour work week was standard. But in the hustle and bustle of modern-day America, you almost feel like an underachiever if you're not putting in at least 55 or 60 hours a week.
Even though the length of the work week has changed in the figurative sense, in the eyes of the federal government a standard work week is still 40 hours. If your employer asks you to work more than 40 hours in a given week, they might be required by law to pay you overtime, or time and a half, for every hour worked over 40 hours.
Generally speaking, if you earn an hourly wage, you are likely eligible for overtime pay. But under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), several types of employees are exempt from overtime laws, including:
• Administrative employees
• Small farm employees
• Computer specialists
Most states have overtime laws that include the same exemptions, but many states have laws that go beyond federal law under the FLSA.
Perhaps you work for a company that provides compensation time, or "comp time," in lieu of overtime pay. You might be surprised to learn that if you're in the private sector and are paid by the hour, your company is probably breaking the law. FLSA prohibits a non-government employer from giving comp time instead of overtime pay to a non-exempt employee – even if the worker would rather have the comp time. Private sector companies are not required to offer overtime or comp time to exempt employees.
"These companies can offer comp time to salaried workers if they wish, but most don't because they feel the negotiated salary fairly compensates the employee for all the work he or she does regardless of how many hours per week it takes to complete that work," explains San Diego, California employment law attorney James Mitchell of Mitchell & Gilleon Law Firm.
In recent years, there have been several high-profile lawsuits involving overtime pay. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, nearly 208,000 employees received a total of $175.6 million in minimum wage and overtime back wages as a result of FSLA violations in 2010.
If you believe your employer owes you overtime back wages or is illegally forcing you to take comp time in place of overtime pay, you can file a complaint with the Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division. You should also consider consulting with an employment lawyer.