Generally, workers can legally work as many hours in a day as they choose to or as their employer requires. No federal or state law caps the number of hours in a workday for most workers. However, workers under 16 years old are not allowed to work longer than 8-hour days. Other occupations, such as truck drivers, may have regulations that limit their workday.
Is there a legal limit to the number of hours I can work in a single day?
No. Generally, workers can legally work up to 24 hours in a single day. However, there are some exceptions, such as workers who are:
- in a regulated industry, like trucking,
- under the age of 16, or
- subject to a collective bargaining agreement.
While the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires employers to provide their non-exempt employees with overtime pay if they work too many hours, it does not put a cap on how many hours a worker can work in a single day.
Certain industries have regulations that cap a worker’s daily hours on the job. Workers in these occupations cannot work more than the maximum number of hours.
An example of an industry that regulates working hours in a day is the trucking industry. Truckers can only drive for up to 11 hours in a period of 14 consecutive hours. Once the 14-hour driving window has expired, truckers have to take 10 hours off.1
Workers under 16 years of age
Workers who are 15 years old or younger are limited in the number of hours they can work in a single day. Under federal law, those limitations depend on whether school is in session. Workers in this age group can only work up to:
- 8 hours in any day when school is not in session, or
- 3 hours in any day when school is in session, including Fridays.2
Those hours must be outside of school hours. They also have to be between:
- 7am and 7pm, or
- 7am and 9pm, if the date is between June 1 and Labor Day.3
However, there are several exceptions that allow a 14- or 15-year-old work 8 hours in a single day while school is in session. This can happen if the worker:
- has graduated from high school,
- has completed the 8th grade, has been excused from compulsory school attendance, and his or her job complies with school attendance law,
- has a child to support and the appropriate state officers have waived school attendance requirements for the worker,
- is subject to a state or federal court order that prohibits him or her from attending school, or
- has been expelled from school and cannot attend another school.4
If state laws are stricter, there may be more limitations to follow.
Collective bargaining agreements
Full-time and part-time employees who have unionized may have a collective bargaining agreement that limits how many hours they can work in a single workday. It may also dictate how overtime hours are calculated, and rate for working overtime.
Will I be paid overtime?
Sometimes. Under the FLSA, non-exempt workers are entitled to an overtime rate if their work schedule puts them over a 40-hour workweek.
A non-exempt worker is someone who is entitled to minimum wage and overtime pay. There are only a limited number of exemptions from these legal protections. While many salaried employees fall into one of these exemptions, not all do.
Overtime pay is one-and-one-half (1.5) times the worker’s regular hourly rate.
Under the FLSA, however, an employee who works a single 24-hour shift has not necessarily earned any overtime pay. In some cases, he or she would still be below the 40 hours of necessary for the week.
However, many state employment laws are more generous as to overtime pay.
How would meal or rest breaks work?
Under federal law, the employer can provide meal or rest breaks. Rest periods are paid and last between 5 and 20 minutes.5 Meal periods are unpaid and last 30 minutes or longer.6 However, federal law does not require employers to provide either type of break. State law may require them to do so, though. Even if there is no legal obligation to provide rest or meal breaks, many employers do, anyway.
Depending on the length of their shift, employees may also be entitled to pay while they are sleeping at the workplace.
Employees on duty for less than 24 hours are considered to be working even if they are allowed to sleep or perform personal activities while not busy.7
Employees required to be on the job for longer than 24 hours can agree with their employer to cut out unpaid sleeping periods of up to 8 hours. The employer would have to furnish sleeping quarters and an uninterrupted sleep.8
What is the law in California?
Under California wage and hour laws, there is no limit to the number of hours an employee can work in a single workday. They can work the full 24-hour period, if they want to. However, workers who do so are entitled to overtime pay and potentially other benefits, as well.
Just like under federal law, there is no maximum number of hours a non-exempt worker can work in a day. Unlike federal law, which only provides overtime for hours worked in excess of 40 hours per week, California’s overtime law applies to a day’s work, as well. It requires overtime pay of 1.5 times the employee’s regular rate of pay for working time in excess of 8 hours in a single day.9 California workers who perform more than 12 hours of work in a single day are entitled to double time pay for those extra hours.10
California labor law also mandates regular rest periods and meal breaks. This is not merely in the discretion of the employer to provide.
When a worker is on the job for more than 3.5 hours in a day, he or she is entitled to a rest break. A 10-minute rest break is then required every 4 hours.11
30-minute meal breaks are required once an employee works more than 5 hours in a day. Employees who work more than 10 hours in one day are entitled to a second meal break.12