What Are My Rights With Respect to Uncompensated Overtime?

My supervisor frequently has me work more than 80 hours in a pay period. What laws govern this and what rights do I have to hold the agency accountable for compensation?

Q: I am a GS-15, Step 10 and cannot be compensated either with comptime or overtime. My supervisor often directs/dictates/mandates I work more than 80 hours in a pay period. What regulations/laws govern this? What rights do I have to hold the agency accountable for compensation or to not work more than the allowed time?

A: The regulations don’t really talk about how to deal with the issue of overtime work when an employee is prohibited from being compensated for that overtime because of the pay caps instituted by the FEPA. (See the pay cap regulations at 5 C.F.R. §§ 550.105-550.107) I believe the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the HR policy agency for the Federal Government, probably would say that such assignments are to be avoided whenever possible.

I think my approach to a supervisor who frequently directs an employee to perform overtime work when compensation is not available would be to have a conversation with the supervisor about the impact of such demands.

One of the first topics that could be discussed is why such assignments are necessary. Certainly asking an employee to frequently put in additional uncompensated hours should be based on solid business related reasons.

Are there unexpected deadlines that show up; are there unplanned-for quick turn-around requests; are other employees suddenly unavailable to complete a project they started? These could be valid business related reasons for assigning overtime, but they also could be the basis for rethinking how work is planned and/or for providing back-ups on critical assignments so the sudden illness or unavailability of an employee does not cause the need for a last minute overtime assignment of another employee to complete a project.

Another approach might be to establish a plan to rotate unexpected overtime assignments evenly among all employees qualified to perform the tasks, rather than provide such assignments to one or just a few individuals.

A second topic to be discussed with the supervisor would be the impact on morale. Frequently being assigned unexpected and uncompensated overtime impacts an employee’s family commitments and personal activities. Such impacts can affect both morale and productivity. Reminding the supervisor that such concerns are important could help the supervisor to think about how she or he plans work. It may also cause the supervisor to re-evaluate how the criticality of individual work assignments is determined, and to make more realistic decisions about whether or not the work must be done on overtime rather than during regular duty hours.

Thirdly, such continual need for uncompensated overtime may be a good basis for requesting additional staffing. All agencies are currently under scrutiny regarding the ability to do more with less, but even in such times, if work is critical to accomplishing the mission of the agency, then it would seem the need for more staffing to perform such critical work is the basis for a solid business related augmentation to staff that management can understand and support.

Fourthly, performance awards, while not permanent additions to basic pay, certainly will help employees see that management appreciates their dedication and the extra efforts being contributed.

And a final suggestion I did not include in my response to this questioner, but am adding for the purposes of this article: I believe the supervisor should be sensitive to the needs of the employee.

When a supervisor waits until the last minute to assign overtime, particularly when the employee cannot be compensated for such overtime, it is not inappropriate for the employee to explain that she or he has a family or personal commitment during the time the overtime is wanted. Certainly, a family commitment, a religious commitment, commitment to a community activity, caring for an elderly relative or an ill child, and the like are important and supervisors should understand if an employee is unable to perform last minute assignments because of such previous commitments. I would caution that like the supervisor who should have a good business related reason for assigning last minute overtime, the employee should have a good reason for refusing such a last minute assignment.

As I mentioned to the questioner, none of these ideas are new and, of course, none of them are perfect solutions to the pay caps that have been in place since 1945, but I hope they may help an employee to sit down with his or her supervisor and, perhaps other employees in the office who are having the same experience, and have an open and honest discussion about the impact continuing requirements to perform uncompensated overtime can have on employee productivity, morale and commitment.

Wayne Coleman is a federal pay expert available to help your agency avoid premium pay claims through on-site training. Contact him for more information.

About the Author

Wayne Coleman is a compensation consultant whose career at various Federal agencies and in private practice spans almost 40 years. During this time he has written about and provided training on overtime and premium pay, on the principles of FLSA coverage and exemption, and on related Federal compensation issues. Wayne is available to help your agency avoid premium pay claims through consulting services and training. You can contact him at wayneslyhouse@comcast.net.