Employers May Establish Non-Calendar Workweeks Which Limit Overtime Pay

In Johnson v. Heckmann Water Resources (CVR), Inc., the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a ruling by a federal district court in Texas which summarily denied a suit by employees alleging that their former employers violated the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act’s overtime wage requirements. The appeals court determined that an employer’s workweek need not conform to a traditional Sunday through Saturday calendar week. Employers are permitted to define the workweek in ways that limit the overtime compensation of their employees.

Background and procedural history

The employees’ work schedule required them to work seven days in a row for 12-hour shifts, beginning every other Thursday. The employees were paid biweekly. The employer calculated overtime wages using a Monday to Sunday workweek.

The employees filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas. The suit alleged that the employer’s use of a Monday through Sunday workweek in calculating overtime violated the overtime wage requirements under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The district court issued a ruling summarily denying the employees’ claims. The employees filed an appeal of the ruling in the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Fifth Circuit’s decision

The Fifth Circuit upheld the district court’s ruling. Employers have a right to establish a workweek, and it does not need to coincide with the traditional Monday through Sunday calendar week, the appeals court said. There is no requirement that an employer start the workweek on any particular day of the week. Federal regulations permit a workweek to start on any weekday and at any hour of the day. A single workweek may be established for all employees within the entire establishment or multiple workweeks may be set up covering different employees or groups of employees. Even though the employer’s workweek does not maximize overtime pay, that fact alone does not constitute a violation of the Act. Federal law merely requires that the workweek that is established is “a fixed and regularly recurring period of 168 hours-seven consecutive 24-hour periods.”

In this case, the employer complied with the Act, even though the employees’ actual seven consecutive day, Thursday through Wednesday, work schedule spanned two workweeks reduced the potential amount of overtime wage compensation.

Contact an attorney

Employers facing litigation and legal disputes under state and federal wage and hour laws are urged to seek the professional services of a competent attorney who is experienced in such matters to ensure that their rights are fully protected.