Is there a limit to the number of consecutive days or the number of hours an exempt employee can work?

April 22, 2014

Generally speaking, the Fair Labor Standards Act places no limit on the number of hours or days that an employee age 16 or older may be required to work. In many private-employer environments, exempt employees are expected to work a minimum of 40 hours per week and to work as many hours as necessary to complete all their job duties. In some environments such as retail and others with extended hours of operation, employers have established minimum schedules of 45 hours or more for management and other exempt personnel.

Although there may be no restrictions on the number of hours an exempt employee may be required to work, some states such as California and New York have day of rest regulations that require an employee to have 24 consecutive hours of time off during a workweek, or on average over a month period.

Despite the fact that there may be no federal regulatory limitations, and only limited state regulatory limitations on hours and days worked, employers should not view this is as rationalization for lengthening the workweek requirements for exempt staff. According to a 2009 article in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, there is a connection between employee fatigue and the bottom line. The study interviewed over 28,000 employees who worked on average over 43 hours per week and another group that worked regularly over 60 hours per week. In the first group, many of the employees reporting fatigue also reported an average of 4.1 hours of lost productive time per week. Additionally those employees who averaged 60 hours per week or more saw a steady increase in the injury rate as the hours of work increased toward 80, where this rate peaked.

Another consideration for employers is the effect on morale and the impact on the ability to recruit well-qualified staff to fill critical roles within the organization. Therefore, although it may appear to be a logical choice to require longer and longer workweeks from exempt employees, employers should fully consider the risks associated with the potential impact on productivity, safety, employee illness and health insurance use, and the ability to recruit and retain quality employees.

Thanks to SHRM for this article – Society of Human Resource Management