Can Employers Make You Work 12 Hour Days?

If a union contract restricts your daily work hours, your employer must abide by it.
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Even the most dedicated employee is likely to burnout with a steady diet of long hours. Whereas some employers limit their employees’ daily work hours to eight, others might make their employees work 12-hour shifts. In the latter case, with few exceptions, an employer has the right to schedule an employee for these long hours.

Federal Law

    Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), if you are 16 or older, your employer can require you work 12-hour days. The act does not restrict the number of hours that employees in that age range can work in a day. The FLSA also does not mandate that employers give employees breaks or meal breaks. Therefore, unless an employment contract says otherwise, your employer can make you work 12 hours in a day without a break. Your employer must, however, pay you for all hours worked.

State Law

    The state may provide greater protection to employees than federal law. To determine whether your employer can make you work 12-hour days under state law, consult the state labor department. Depending on your occupation, the state might restrict the number of hours you can work in a day. For example, in Oregon, most employees who work in logging camps, sawmills, planing mills and shingle mills cannot work more than eight hours in a day. Employees who work in factory and manufacturing establishments cannot work more than 10 hours per day. However, many other states give employers free reign to schedule employees to work as many hours in a day as they see fit.


    Under federal law, your employer must pay you overtime for work hours that exceed 40 for the week. Overtime is not required if you work 12-hour days; it’s total hours worked in a week that determines overtime pay. The state might say that your employer must pay you overtime for work hours that exceed eight in a day, up to 12 hours. You might be entitled to double-time pay for hours worked in excess of eight on the seventh straight day of the workweek.

Rest and Meal Periods

    The state might forbid employers from making employees work consecutively throughout the day without providing a break or lunch period. For example, in California and Kentucky, an employer must provide employees with paid 10-minute breaks after each four-hour work period. The state might also have a one-day-rest-in-seven law, which says your employer must give you a minimum of 24 hours of consecutive rest each week.

Child Labor

    The FLSA and many states limit the number of hours youths below 16 can work in a day. For example, under the FLSA, 14 and 15-year-olds in nonagricultural industries can work no more than three hours on school days and up to eight hours on nonschool days.

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