Working overtime means extra pay, but possibly also extra stress and fatigue. Laws in Washington state mirror federal laws by guaranteeing certain rights for employees who work overtime but giving employers full discretion to schedule overtime. In the absence of a contractual agreement, employers have authority to decide hours and shifts for all employees.


Washington employers must pay overtime to employees whenever they work more than 40 hours per week. The state defines overtime pay, which applies to all time worked past 40 hours, as 1.5 times what an employee normally makes per hour. As long as employers pay overtime when applicable, they can schedule employees for as many hours per shift and per workweek as they choose.


The authority of Washington employers to schedule employees for any hours applies to nights, weekends and holidays, as well as regular hours. Employers may also schedule employees for days an employee typically would have off, according to the Washington Department of Labor and Industries. When employees work these days, employers do not owe them overtime unless the time worked is in excess of 40 hours for the workweek.


Most minors in Washington may not work overtime because of state-imposed restrictions on their availability. A 14- or 15-year-old may work only 16 hours during school weeks and 40 hours during non-school weeks. A 16- or 17-year-old may work 20 hours during school weeks and 48 hours during non-school weeks, and thus is eligible for up to eight hours of overtime when school is out of session. Nurses at hospitals, hospices and some long-term care facilities may work overtime only on a voluntary basis. An employer may not take adverse job actions against a nurse who declines to work overtime.


A 2002 report by the Economic Policy Institute noted the costs of mandatory overtime in the form of a higher number of accidents and mistakes on the job, as well as less efficiency. Employees who frequently work mandatory overtime also are at increased risk for stress, chronic fatigue and resulting serious health conditions. Perhaps with these issues in mind, labor unions often make hour limits a core part of collective bargaining negotiations with employers. Washington employers must adhere to terms of collective bargaining agreements and other contracts that limit employees to a certain number of hours per week.