Labor laws in the United States give employers ample latitude regarding scheduling. Employers essentially can have employees work any number of hours, including 80 hours per week or more, and employees' only recourse if they do not like their schedule is to find other employment. Although labor laws regarding hours apply differently to employees who earn salaries rather than hourly wages, employers' scheduling authority is the same in either case.
Federal labor law, specifically the Fair Labor Standards Act, does not regulate the number of hours an employer can require any employee to work. Laws require time-and-a-half pay for many employees who work overtime, defined as more than 40 hours during any given workweek. Federal laws include no requirements to pay overtime for working nighttime, weekend or holiday hours. A few states, including California, add overtime laws for employees who have to work more than a certain number of hours on a given day.
Employees whose pay is a salary rather than an hourly wage might not have a right to overtime pay no matter how many extra hours they work per day or week. In other words, employers could require these employees to work 80 or more hours a week and still owe them only their regular salary. Federal regulations provide employers with exemptions from overtime pay laws for many salaried employees. The exemption applies if an employee makes at least $455 a week in salary as of 2011 and works in an executive, administrative, professional, outside sales or computer-related job as stipulated in federal regulations.
Employers might be more likely to schedule salaried employees than hourly employees for 80-hour weeks. Salaried employees who work that many hours would have a legal right only to their agreed-upon salary, while hourly employees would have a right to 1.5 times their usual wage for the final 40 hours. The expectation is that salaried employees will work as many hours as they need to complete their assignments. On the flip side, they can leave work early or show up late as they choose and still receive their full salary. Employers can reduce their salary only if they miss an entire week of work or miss a full day for personal reasons aside from disability or illness.
For salaried employees who make less than $455 a week -- based on 2011 regulations -- or do not meet federal criteria for exempt job duties, employers must pay overtime any time those employees work more than 40 hours a week. Employers calculate a salaried employee's overtime rate by taking his weekly salary and dividing by the number of hours -- most likely 40 -- in the employee's standard work week, then multiplying by 1.5. If an employee makes $400 a week in salary and his typical schedule is 40 hours, his standard hourly rate is $10. If he has to work 80 hours, he would receive $15 an hour for the final 40 hours -- or an extra $600 in his paycheck.