Career Advice

Can an Employer Keep You Past Your Scheduled Time?

There are those days at work when you are counting down the hours until it’s time to go home. The last thing you want is for your boss to tell you that they want you to stay over. You may have things to do, appointments to keep, or you’re simply tired. Do you have the right to leave at your scheduled time, regardless of your employer’s wishes? If so, what are the repercussions?

Can an Employer Make You Stay Late Without Notice?

Yes, your employer can have you stay late without giving you any notice. Federal and state laws allow employers to insist on mandatory or scheduled overtime. When an employer does this, they do need to meet all of the guidelines put in place by the FLSA. This includes paying time and a half for any hours over 40, and overtime cannot put you in danger. The exceptions to this are computer professionals, youth counselors that are responsible for daycare, seamen, farmers, ranch hands, or employees on a watercraft.

Employees with an employment or union contract that covers involuntary overtime are also an exception to this. For these individuals, asking them to work overtime might breach their contract. The employee can then file a grievance with their union.

While an employer can make you work past your scheduled time, they should understand the consequences of overworking their staff. They risk lowering morale, causing high employee turnover, and increasing the risk of employee injuries.

Check out the related articles on “Can an employer take you off the schedule without notice?” and “Can employer schedule you outside your availability?” to gain more understanding on employer’s and employees’ rights around work schedule.

Can I Be Fired for Leaving at My Scheduled Time?

Your employer can’t use physical force to make you work late, but they can legally threaten to fire you, regardless of whether your shift has ended or what your other obligations are. What they can’t legally do is make you clock out and continue to work. Every hour you work has to be on the clock.

The Fair Labor Standard Act covers this subject, but one thing the FLSA doesn’t state is the maximum or minimum number of hours an employee can work. This means that your employer can legally change your schedule at any time, even at the last minute. Your employer is well within the law if they ask you to work past your scheduled quitting time. If you refuse, they can fire you, and you won’t be able to do anything about it.

Can an Employer Make You Stay Late Without Pay?

Although it’s inconvenient for you, your employer is well within their rights when they have you work late without letting you know in advance. If you’ve already reached your scheduled hours for the day or week, they have to pay you overtime. This is 1.5 times your normal hourly rate. You’ll hear this referred to as “time and a half.” They don’t have to pay an overtime rate if you are a part-time employee who works less than eight hours per day or less than 40 hours per week.

Related Article: How To Politely Say “No” When Your Boss Asks You To Stay Late

Understanding Your Limits

If your employer absolutely needs you to stay late to finish a project, of course you should stay, but if you volunteer to work late in order to improve your standing in the company, you may be better off refusing to stay.

Consistently working past your scheduled time can have a negative effect on your mental and physical health. As time goes by, you’ll begin to experience a lack of energy, chronic fatigue, insomnia, a loss of appetite, and impaired concentration. All of these symptoms prevent you from performing as well as you could at your job. At this point, your overtime isn’t helpful. In extreme cases, employees have developed anxiety, depression, and anger.

The idea of being overworked varies. There’s no exact number of hours of being overworked that all people have in common. For some, it could be 30 hours. For others, 50 hours is too much. It depends on the job as well as one’s personal life and obligations. You’ll know for yourself when you’ve become overworked. The stress will start to creep into your personal life, and it will begin to affect your ability to do your job properly.

Being overworked decreases productivity. When you’ve worked past your limit, you’re going to sleep less, skip exercising, and eat more. At this point, the extra hours you put in are so unproductive that they aren’t making a difference.

Worst of all, you might be annoying your fellow employees in the process. You don’t mean to, but by being one of the only ones who are always eager to work over, you’re creating a competitive environment. You’re putting pressure on others to stay late too.

Refusing to Stay Late at Work

If you do have to refuse to work overtime, there are ways to do it professionally. When telling your employer you don’t want to work late, start by giving a logical explanation as to why you can’t. Get right to the point. Your employer doesn’t need to know your entire personal story. Be sure to show gratitude by thanking them for the opportunity for overtime, and empathize with them by showing that you understand their need for extra help.

Be direct. If you look like you’re uncertain, they’ll continue to insist that you stay. It may help if you delegate someone to work in your place. This works well when you have an appointment you can’t get out of, but a co-worker is free and would appreciate the extra hours. Above all else, let them know you respect their authority.

So, can an employer keep you past your scheduled time? Yes, and they can fire you if you don’t. If you do have to leave, be professional in how you approach the subject. With the right attitude, you should be able to work out the problem without tragic consequences.

About Author

Founder of With over 20 years of experience in HR and various roles in corporate world, Jenny shares tips and advice to help professionals advance in their careers. Her blog is a go-to resource for anyone looking to improve their skills, land their dream job, or make a career change.

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