Employee Work Hours

Federal laws pertaining to work hours are enforced by the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor's Employment Standard Administration. The Wage and Hour Division enforces federal minimum wage, overtime pay, recordkeeping, and child labor requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the labor requirements of the Davis-Bacon and Related Acts, the McNamara O'Hara Service Contract Act (SCA), the Contract Work Hours and Safety Standards Act, and the Copeland Anti-Kickback Act.

The Wage and Hour Division has a variety of guidance materials available for both employees and employers on the subject of work hours.

Here are some Work Hours subtopics that are of particular interest.

Breaks and Meal Periods
Federal law does not require lunch or coffee breaks. However, when employers do offer short breaks (usually lasting about 5 to 20 minutes), federal law considers the breaks work-time that must be paid. Unauthorized extensions of authorized work breaks need not be counted as hours worked when the employer has expressly and unambiguously communicated to the employee that the authorized break may only last for a specific length of time, that any extension of the break is contrary to the employer's rules, and any extensionof the break will be punished.

Bona fide meal periods (typically lasting at least 30 minutes), serve a different purpose than coffee or snack breaks and, thus, are not work time and are not compensable.

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Flexible Schedules
A flexible work schedule is an alternative to the traditional 9 to 5, 40-hour work week. It allows employees to vary their arrival and/or departure times. Under some policies, employees must work a prescribed number of hours a pay period and be present during a daily "core time." The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not address flexible work schedules. Alternative work arrangements such as flexible work schedules are a matter of agreement between the employer and the employee (or the employee's representative). The Department of Labor has conducted numerous surveys and published articles and reports on the subject.

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Fulltime Employment
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not define full-time employment or part-time employment. This is a matter generally to be determined by the employer. Whether an employee is considered full-time or part-time does not change the application of the FLSA, nor does it affect application of the Service Contract Act or Davis-Bacon and Related Acts wage and fringe benefit requirements.

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Holidays
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not require payment for time not worked, such as vacations or holidays (federal or otherwise). These benefits are generally a matter of agreement between an employer and an employee (or the employee's representative).

On a government contract to which the labor standards of the McNamara O'Hara Service Contract Act (SCA) apply, holiday and/or vacation fringe benefit requirements are stated in the SCA wage determinations in contracts that exceed $2,500.

On a government contract to which the labor standards of the Davis-Bacon and Related Acts apply, holiday pay and/or vacation pay is required for specific classifications of workers only if the Davis-Bacon wage determination in the covered contract specifies such requirements for workers employed in those classifications.

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Job Sharing
Job sharing means that two (or more) workers share the duties of one full-time job, each working part time, or two or more workers who have unrelated part-time assignments share the same budget line. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not address job sharing. Job sharing is a matter of agreement between an employer and an employee (or the employee's representative).

The benefits of job sharing are said to include increased morale and productivity. Job sharing can also be an attractive way to recruit new employees and retain current ones. In order for a job sharing arrangement to be successful, however, both individuals must be able to handle the position as efficiently as one person.

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Night Work and Shift Work
Extra pay for working night shifts is a matter of agreement between the employer and the employee (or the employee's representative). The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not require extra pay for night work. However, the FLSA does require that covered, nonexempt workers be paid not less than time and one-half the employee's regular rate for time worked over 40 hours in a workweek.

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Overtime
For covered, nonexempt employees, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires overtime pay to be at least one and one-half times an employee's regular rate of pay after 40 hours of work in a workweek. Some exceptions apply under special circumstances to police and firefighters and to employees of hospitals and nursing homes.

Some states have overtime laws. In cases where an employee is subject to both the state and federal overtime laws, the employee is entitled to overtime according to the higher standard (i.e., the standard that will provide the higher overtime pay).

Extra pay for working weekends or nights is a matter of agreement between the employer and the employee (or the employee's representative).

The Contract Work Hours and Safety Standards Act (CWHSSA) requires contractors and subcontractors on most federal contracts over $100,000 for services or construction to pay laborers and mechanics at least one and one-half times their basic rate of pay for all hours worked over 40 in a workweek. CWHSSA also applies to most federally assisted construction contracts.

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Parttime Employment
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not address part-time employment. Whether an employee is considered full-time or part-time does not change the application of the FLSA.

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Recordkeeping and Reporting
Every employer covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) must keep certain records for each covered, nonexempt worker. There is no required form for the records, but the records must include accurate information about the employee and data about the hours worked and the wages earned. The following is a listing of the basic records that an employer must maintain:

  • Employee's full name and social security number
  • Address, including zip code
  • Birth date, if younger than 19
  • Sex and occupation
  • Time and day of week when employee's workweek begins. Hours worked each day and total hours worked each workweek
  • Basis on which employee's wages are paid
  • Regular hourly pay rate
  • Total daily or weekly straight-time earnings
  • Total overtime earnings for the workweek
  • All additions to or deductions from the employee's wages
  • Total wages paid each pay period
  • Date of payment and the pay period covered by the payment

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Sick Leave
Federal law does not require sick leave. If you quit your job before using all of your sick leave, your employer is not obligated to pay you for that time.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for certain medical situations for either the employee or a member of the employee's immediate family; however, in many instances paid leave may be substituted for unpaid FMLA leave.

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Travel Time
Time spent traveling during normal work hours is considered compensable work time. Time spent in home-to-work travel by an employee in an employer-provided vehicle, or in activities performed by an employee that are incidental to the use of the vehicle for commuting, generally is not "hours worked" and, therefore, does not have to be paid. This provision applies only if the travel is within the normal commuting area for the employer's business and the use of the vehicle is subject to an agreement between the employer and the employee or the employee's representative.

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Vacation Leave
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not require payment for time not worked, such as vacations, sick leave or federal or other holidays. These benefits are matters of agreement between an employer and an employee (or the employee's representative).

On a government contract to which the labor standards of the McNamara O'Hara Service Contract Act (SCA) apply, holiday and/or vacation fringe benefit requirements are stated in the SCA wage determinations in contracts that exceed $2,500.

On a government contract to which the labor standards of the Davis-Bacon and Related Acts apply, holiday pay and/or vacation pay is required for specific classifications of workers only if the Davis-Bacon wage determination in the covered contract specifies such requirements for workers employed in those classifications.

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Weekend Work
Extra pay for working during weekends is generally a matter of agreement between the employer and the employee (or the employee's representative). The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not require extra pay for weekend work. However, covered, non-exempt employees must be paid at least one and one-half times their regular rates of pay for for the time worked over 40 hours in a workweek.

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Information courtesy of the U.S. Bureau of Labor.