When Are Federal Employees Entitled to Overtime Pay Under the FLSA?

February 10, 2023
The Law Firm of J.W. Stafford

As an employee of the federal government, it is important to make sure you have a clear understanding of your right to overtime pay. While all federal employers should correctly apply the overtime rules under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), mistakes in the federal sector are common. If you have been improperly denied overtime, you have clear legal rights, and you will want to discuss your rights with an experienced federal employment lawyer as soon as possible.

When Are Federal Employees Entitled to Overtime?

Many federal employees are eligible for overtime under the FLSA when they work more than 40 hours in a week. For eligible employees, the FLSA requires that the government pay at least one-and-a-half times their regular wage for all hours worked past the standard 40-hour workweek.

To be eligible for overtime pay, federal employees must be classified as “non-exempt.” This is the same in the public and private sectors. Exempt employees are typically those who work in professional occupations and who receive an annual salary instead of a weekly wage.

But, in the federal sector, there are other exceptions as well. For example, federal employees who are covered under Title 5 are not eligible for overtime under the FLSA. Additionally, certain employees of the legislative and judicial branches won’t qualify, and there are a number of other exceptions that apply to federal employees in certain specific occupations.

Given the challenges involved in determining whether you are eligible for overtime under the FLSA, it is best to consult with a lawyer if you have any questions about your legal rights. As we said in the introduction, while federal employers should get the federal overtime rules right, they often do not. As a federal employee, you need to know that you are making informed decisions, and this means that you need to rely on the advice of a lawyer who has your best interests in mind.

When Does FLSA Overtime Pay Start?

Assuming you are eligible for overtime under the FLSA, your right to overtime pay starts once you have worked 40 hours in a workweek. The FLSA defines a “workweek” as “any fixed and regularly recurring period of 168 hours,” or “seven consecutive 24-hour periods.”

This means that you don’t necessarily have to work more than 40 hours in a single calendar week in order to be eligible for overtime. As the U.S. Department of Labor clarifies, a workweek “need not coincide with the calendar week, but may begin on any day and at any hour of the day.” As the DOL also notes, “[d]ifferent workweeks may be established for different employees or groups of employees.” While these provisions of the FLSA are intended to help ensure that federal employees receive the full overtime pay to which they are legally entitled, as a practical matter, these types of complexities often lead to mistakes in calculating federal employees’ overtime.

What Qualifies as an Hour Worked?

Federal employees can also face challenges in securing overtime pay due to the FLSA’s definition of “work.” For example, in some cases, federal employers may deny overtime on the basis that an employee worked “voluntarily” and without a specific request or approval.

However, the FLSA clearly states that federal employees are entitled to overtime pay in this scenario (assuming they are otherwise eligible). Under the FLSA, employers owe overtime when they “suffer or permit” work. In Fact Sheet #22, the DOL explains that “[w]ork not requested but suffered or permitted to be performed is work time that must be paid for by the employer.”

Other issues that can lead to denial of FLSA overtime for federal employees include improper application of the rules governing:

  • Waiting Time – Federal employees are entitled to compensation for waiting time if they are “engaged to wait.” In many occupations, waiting is part of the job. When this is the case, time spent waiting counts toward the employee’s 40-hour workweek, and hours spent waiting after 40 qualify as overtime.
  • OnCall Time – The rules regarding on-call time are less clear-cut. While employees are clearly on the clock when they are on-call on their employer’s premises, in other scenarios federal employees’ right to compensation depends on the circumstances involved.
  • Rest and Meal Breaks – The DOL notes that short breaks of 20 minutes or less generally must be compensated. While longer lunch breaks may not count as time worked, there are some exceptions. As an example, the DOL explains in Fact Sheet #22 that, “an employee who remains at his/her desk while eating lunch and regularly answers the telephone and refers callers is working.”
  • Sleep – The rules for compensation while sleeping vary for federal employees who are on duty for more or less than 24 hours. When an employee is on duty for less than 24 hours, he or she is entitled to compensation if permitted to sleep when not busy. When an employee is on duty for more than 24 hours, the employee “may agree with the employer to exclude from hours worked bona fide regularly scheduled sleeping periods of not more than 8 hours, provided adequate sleeping facilities are furnished by the employer and the employee can usually enjoy an uninterrupted night’s sleep.”
  • Travel – While normal commuting time generally does not count as time worked, travel time does count toward an employee’s work hours in many other scenarios. This includes time spent on overnight trips as well as time spent traveling for special one-day assignments.
  • Training Programs – Generally, time spent attending job-related training programs counts as time worked under the FLSA for federal employees.  

Are You Entitled to FLSA Overtime as a Federal Employee? Contact Us Today

If you believe that you may have been improperly denied overtime pay as a federal employee, we encourage you to contact us for more information. We represent federal employees nationwide. To schedule a confidential consultation with a federal employment lawyer at The Law Firm of J.W. Stafford, please call 410-514-6099 or tell us how we can reach you online today.