Can an employer mandate overtime hours?
Overtime pay is a basic legal right for most hourly workers. Federal law mandates overtime pay for any non-exempt worker for every hour he or she works in excess of 40 hours per week. Washington law establishes additional conditions for overtime pay that must be followed by all employers in the state.
How Overtime Works
Overtime is based on the “workweek,” which is any seven consecutive 24-hour periods—meaning it does not necessarily have to begin on a Monday. And while an employer may use different workweeks to arrange employee schedules, it is not permitted to “average” together hours worked over a period of more than seven days to avoid paying overtime. This is important since many employers operate on a two-week pay period. Regardless of how frequently the employer pays, overtime is always calculated according to a seven-day, 40-hour workweek.
If an employee works overtime hours, the employer is legally required to pay one-and-one-half times the employee's regular hourly rate. For example, if an employee normally earns $12 per hour and works 50 hours in a workweek, the employer must may her $18 for each of the 10 hours worked beyond 40. The employer is free to pay an even higher rate, but it cannot pay less than the one-and-one-half mandate.
An employer cannot legally ask you to waive your right to overtime pay. Nor can you could agree to such a waiver. Washington State law theoretically permits employees to request “comp time”—time off later in exchange for working overtime hours—but federal law effectively restricts this option to employees of the government.
Also note that Washington State law does not restrict an employer's ability to mandate overtime hours. Except for certain health care workers, an employer is free to require overtime so long as the employee receives the increased hourly pay.
Are There Exceptions?
Some categories of jobs are not subject to overtime pay requirements. Most notably, this list includes many agricultural and seasonal workers, as well as certain white-collar employees who are normally paid on salary rather than by the hour. However, federal and state law differs on the subject of white-collar overtime pay, so it is a good idea to consult with an experienced Washington State employment law attorney if you are unsure about how overtime works in a particular situation.
Federal and state law protect the right of most hourly workers to receive time-and-a-half for every hour worked over 40 per workweek.