Work Hours - Adults
To suit its purpose regarding work hours, this article assumes that "adult" workers are age 16 or older. See Work Hours for Minors - Child Labor for related information about workers younger than 16.
The Federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which covers most workers, is considered to be the U.S. law regarding work hours. Even so, it does not restrict the number of daily or weekly work hours that employers may schedule for adult workers, as it does for workers under age 16.
The FLSA also does not mandate acceptable work shifts for adult workers, as it does for workers under age 16. Employers may start a work shift on any day and in any time slot for adult workers.
If you are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Rehabilitation Act or a state equivalent, then your employer might be required to modify your work schedule to reasonably accommodate your disability.
But the FLSA does require employers to pay overtime at a rate of at least 1.5 times normal pay, to eligible adult employees who work hours totaling more than 40 in a seven-day workweek.
However, the FLSA does not restrict the number of overtime work hours that employers may schedule for adult employees. For example, it does not prohibit employers from requiring adult employees to work mandatory overtime.
Whether overtime or regular time, the bottom line under the FLSA is that the number of work hours and when work shifts start are a matter of agreement between employers and employees or employers and unions. (A collective bargaining agreement is an example of such an agreement.) Where there is no such agreement, employers may dictate work hours and shifts under the FLSA.
However, there are other Federal laws (or related rules or regulations) that do limit work hours, though few. Some states have enacted equivalents. But, in both cases, the laws typically cover only workers who are engaged in occupations where fatigue is a serious hazard to personal or public safety or health. Examples include truck and bus drivers, railroad and airline crews, miners, and nurses.
Other than the few, workers have no legal protection against fatigue caused by excessive work hours. But some states have at least enacted FLSA equivalents that have more generous employee provisions than the Federal version. For example, the California law is a little more generous regarding work hours that constitute employee overtime, while the Illinois law grants employees at least 24 hours of rest per calendar week.
In an effort to thwart fatigue from long work hours, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published a Safety and Health Guide entitled "Extended/Unusual Work Shifts". It recommends that employers grant extra meal and rest breaks when shifts exceed eight hours per day. But it's only a guide, not a law to which employers must adhere.
To find out if you are covered by a state or Federal law that limits work hours for your occupation, or at least a more-generous state version of the FLSA, check with the wage and hour (or equivalent) division of the state labor department. Also check with the state OSHA equivalent, if your state has one. Alternately or additionally, consult an attorney.
Without the protections mentioned above, there are few "legal" ways to modify your work hours, but to negotiate them one-on-one with your employer. If your employer isn't willing to negotiate, which is typically the case, then involuntarily working the hours or quitting for a better job are likely to be your only options outside of filing a lawsuit for excessive mandatory overtime.