It’s easy to feel overworked and underpaid at any job, and when scheduling demands and workloads start interfering with your personal life, it’s only natural to seek legal recourse. Labor union contracts often contain restrictions on hours and workloads, but federal labor law doesn’t regulate anything more than minimum wage, overtime and child-labor provisions, giving employers a wide amount of freedom to determine workloads, schedules and break periods for their employees.

Fair Labor Standards Act

The Fair Labor Standards Act serves as the principal federal labor law. Its primary purpose defines a workweek as seven consecutive days and mandates that employers pay you overtime pay equal to 150 percent of your normal wage for all hours that exceed 40 you work in a single workweek. The FLSA also establishes a federal minimum wage all workers must receive – $7.25 as of April 2011 – and requires employers to keep accurate records of employees’ shifts and payments. It also limits the types and hours a worker who is under 16 may work.

Issues Not Covered By the FLSA

A common misconception is that federal law regulates many additional workplace issues, but the FLSA is silent on all other subjects, allowing employers leeway. Because of this, no federal legislation requires employers to provide rest periods or lunch breaks. The FLSA doesn’t limit the length of a shift that an employer may require you to work, nor does it cap the number of hours in a workweek your employer may schedule you to work, as long as he meets overtime pay requirements. Additionally, the FLSA doesn’t require employers to provide additional pay for weekend, overnight or holiday shifts.

Exempt Employees

The FLSA’s standards don’t apply to most salaried employees as long as they receive a regular and predictable amount of pay each pay period regardless of the quantity and quality of the actual work they perform. Statutory exemptions to the FLSA apply to several different classifications of workers as well, and commissioned sales workers; computer operators who earn at least $27.63 hourly; drivers and mechanics; workers at automotive dealerships; and farm workers are among the large classes of workers exempt from FLSA overtime laws.

State Labor Law

Federal law doesn’t grant many protections if you feel overworked at your job, but your state’s labor laws may provide more protections. Worker protections vary widely between states, with some guaranteeing rest periods or a state minimum wage higher than the federal minimum. Most labor laws, however, aim to protect workers from the most severe forms of exploitation while allowing employers the freedom to manage their business as needed with the least amount of interference.