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Can Employers Require Parents to Work Overtime?

When you become a parent, certain working conditions begin to matter more. For example, having a regular schedule that allows you to spend time with your kids becomes crucial. Before, you may not have minded a few extra hours on your paycheck, but now, it interrupts your schedule and can create serious issues with finding childcare.

That leaves many new parents wondering whether their employers can require overtime at all. The answer is complicated – in some cases, your company can require extra time, but not in all. Here’s what you need to know about the overtime rules for parents in California and what to do if your employer discriminates against you for scheduling issues.

Overtime Rules in California

Three sets of rules may impact the type and amount of overtime your employer can require. First, the federal Department of Labor (DOL) sets some basic requirements in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

According to the FLSA, all employers must pay nonexempt workers at least time and a half for working more than 40 hours in a 168-hour workweek or 8 hours in 24. However, the DOL does not limit total working hours for people 16 and older. Employers can require workers to perform as much extra time as they want as long as they do not discriminate against people for federally protected characteristics or violate OSHA safety rules.

California adds additional restrictions on mandatory overtime. It defines standard overtime as working more than 6 days a week, 40 hours a week, or 8 hours a day. When nonexempt employees exceed these hours, they must be paid time and a half. It also requires employers to pay double time or twice the worker’s standard wage if they exceed 12 hours of work in a day or more than 8 hours on their seventh consecutive day of work. 

More importantly, California permits workers to refuse extra hours without penalties from their employer in certain circumstances. You can refuse to work more if:

  • You worked overtime the previous week for a total of 72 hours or more.
  • You are currently working your seventh consecutive day of the same workweek.
  • You believe doing so would pose a safety or health hazard, such as if you are operating heavy machinery or factory equipment.

In these situations, your employer cannot penalize you for refusing to work more in California.

The third set of rules that may apply varies from job to job. Your employer is required to follow any terms set in your employment contract or industry-wide labor agreements

If your contract states that you cannot be required to work more than 10 hours of overtime, for example, your employer cannot require you to do so. If they attempt to force you to work more than your contractual limit or penalize you for refusing, they are in breach of contract, and you have grounds for legal action.

Can Employers Make Overtime Mandatory?

Yes, your employer can require you to work more than 40 hours a week or 8 hours a day unless your employment contract states otherwise. However, it’s important to know the rules about mandatory overtime:

  • Your employer cannot force you to show up or stay at work to work more. They can penalize you for refusing to do so, though. This can include firing you or otherwise taking adverse employment action.
  • Your company must pay you appropriately for your time. If you are not receiving time and a half or double time as appropriate for the extra time you’re working, your employer is violating your right to fair pay.
  • Your employer cannot require you to work extra time if it would be unsafe, if you worked more than 72 hours the previous week, or if you are on your seventh consecutive day of work in one workweek.
  • If you’re salaried, you’re usually exempt from overtime requirements unless you would earn more working at the minimum wage and following overtime compensation laws. For example, if you make $45,000 per year but work 80 hours a week, you may be misclassified as exempt and have the right to overtime pay in California.

Keeping these rules in mind can help you spot if your employer is violating state wage and hour laws.

Overtime, Parents, and Protected Characteristics

Parents are not explicitly protected under California law, but many types of discrimination against parents are also grounded in gender and marital status. This includes scheduling discrimination. Examples of discriminatory overtime policies include:

  • Requiring people of a certain gender to work more when other genders are not required to do so. 
  • Excusing married people from mandatory schedule requirements when single people are not excused.
  • Penalizing people for taking protected family or medical leave instead of working overtime. 

It is not illegal to fire someone who cannot work extra hours because they have children. However, it is unlawful to fire a woman because she may have children and no longer be able to work additional hours in the future. Employers also may not excuse women from working overtime so they can care for their kids while requiring fathers to work extra anyway. Finally, any policy that explicitly or implicitly benefits married workers over unmarried ones is unlawful, regardless of parental status. 

Is Your Employer’s Overtime Policy Discriminatory?

Mandatory overtime is legal to an extent, but your employer’s policies may still be discriminatory. If you suspect your employer is violating your rights and discriminating against you with an unjust overtime policy, reach out to the skilled employment attorneys at Le Clerc & Le Clerc LLP. We can help you determine if you are suffering from discrimination and help you choose the best path forward. Learn more about how we can assist you with your workplace discrimination case by scheduling your consultation today.

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