Is There a Limit to the Number of Consecutive Days Worked?
Question: Is there any limit to how many consecutive days an employee can be asked to work?
Answer: For most employers, there is no specific limitation on how many consecutive days an employee may be required to work. However, there are important caveats. For example, the general obligation under OSHA to furnish a safe workplace might be violated by a practice of working employees so many days that fatigue causes workplace accidents. An employee who refuses to work such hours and is fired might then have a whistleblower claim. And of course, overtime must be paid to hourly workers after 40 hours in a week.
The member who submitted this question is in Illinois, one of the states with laws regulating how long employees can be forced to work. Illinois employers are required to give their employees at least one full day (i.e., 24 hours) of rest in every calendar week, and at least 20 minutes for a meal period no later than five hours after work begins if the work day is 7 1/2 hours or longer. Exceptions may be made for “employees needed in case of breakdown of machinery or equipment or other emergency requiring the immediate services of experienced and competent labor to prevent injury to person, damage to property, or suspension of necessary operation.” The law goes on to describe a procedure for applying for a permit allowing an employer to work a person seven days a week for up to eight weeks in a year if the employer can show he has no other alternative. Violators can be fined.
Regardless of the legal issues, any employer who works his people so hard that they receive inadequate time off should not expect a happy workforce–and an unhappy workforce is an unproductive workforce that will leave as soon as they can find a job elsewhere.
This response is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion, nor is this column a substitute for formal legal assistance. For help with particular legal needs, members are invited to consult with Brooke Duncan III of Adams and Reese LLP. Mr. Duncan can be reached at 504-585-0220 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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