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United States law stipulates that anyone who works enough hours a week is entitled to hourly wages that are exactly 50% higher than their standard hourly wage rate for each hour beyond the number of hours they are expected to work throughout a given week. These extra hours are defined as “overtime hours,” and whether an employee can legally be considered to be working overtime is dependent both on state laws and on the regulations established on the federal level by the Fair Labor Standards Act. The majority of states consider weekly work time from the forty-first hour onward to be work time that must be paid this extra rate, and some states also apply this pay rate to daily work time from the ninth hour onward as well.

Employers are required by both state and federal laws to pay increased wages for extra work regardless of that work’s context. It does not matter whether an employee with a forty-hour work week is asked by his or her boss to work several extra hours unexpectedly or is formally assigned to work above forty hours every week regularly. Once an employee’s time spent working throughout a given week crosses the forty-hour threshold, what would have been, for example, $18 per hour must be raised to $27 per hour for each hour that takes place throughout the remainder of the week.

Employees Must Be Compensated Appropriately

Even extra hours that occur for reasons other than the employer demanding or allowing it must be compensated with increased hourly wages if the work would benefit the employer’s business. For example, a worker may put in some unauthorized hours without even notifying his or her employer that this will happen. Even if the employer is not aware of this, the responsibility is on the employer to pay the increased wages because the employer should always be aware of any work committed by those under its scope.

In another example, when a commercial store closes for the night and there is a need for employees to clean and arrange its isles in anticipation of the next business day, the employer at the store may choose not to record the time these workers spend cleaning as traditional work hours. In this case, any hour spent working on this cleaning shift must be compensated appropriately as an hour that is not part of an employee’s work obligation.

Be Aware of Company Policies Regarding Unauthorized Overtime

None of this is to say that employers are entirely at their employees’ mercy whenever employees voluntarily put in extra work hours beyond what they are authorized to do. A workplace often has a policy in place restricting, if not outright disallowing, unauthorized hours spent working overtime or at least establishing that payment will not be issued for those hours, and it is not illegal for a workplace to penalize an employee that violates its stated policy.

However, when someone does put in these extra hours regardless of the policy, it can still go either way in regard to whether the employer will be ruled as having to pay increased wages for each extra hour or not. Its stance that it should not have to issue increased wages becomes likelier to be upheld if the worker had already been corrected over a previous instance of the same behavior. A worker who is convinced that he or she is not being paid appropriately for hours spent working beyond his or her duty can consult an employment attorney to determine whether a complaint against the employer can be successfully filed and pursued.

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