Work-schedule change is legal unless governed by a contract


December 07, 2005|By CARRIE MASON-DRAFFEN

I took a job in a hospital four years ago with the understanding that I would work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The department expanded, however, and changed some schedules, including mine. Now I have to rotate at times and work the late shift. Is this legal? It's inconvenient because I have arranged my life based on a 5 p.m. quitting time. The company wants us to be flexible, but I wonder if it is violating labor law by turning my life upside down.

If companies won't guarantee lifetime employment anymore, they certainly aren't going to guarantee lifetime schedules, and they aren't obligated to do so unless a contract requires it.

Unless a contract stipulates employees' working hours, companies have substantial leeway in setting schedules. Despite that, you may have some options. You could try to make the case that your job is best performed during prime working hours. Or you could make the case that your shift doesn't have enough people as it is. A cogent discussion might persuade your manager to preserve your schedule.

Our pay cycle and workweek differ, and the disparity sometimes causes confusion. We are paid every two weeks. Sometimes the pay cycle starts on a Tuesday and ends on a Friday of the following week. Our workweek typically runs Tuesday through Monday. How do you determine overtime in a system like this?

If you are eligible for overtime, then you qualify for the premium pay when you work more than 40 hours in a workweek. And the key is "workweek." The Labor Department, for purposes of record-keeping and overtime and other matters, defines a workweek as a period of seven consecutive days. Beyond that, a firm can determine when the period ends and begins. The company can't, however, legally shift the workweek to avoid paying overtime.

If your workweek runs Tuesday through Monday, then you would have to work more than 40 hours in that period to qualify for the overtime pay mandated by law. If you work the Monday before that week begins or the Tuesday after the workweek, those hours fall into a different 40-hour work period and the march toward overtime starts all over again.

Regardless of the cycle, the company has to establish a workweek so that it can document what you are owed.

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