Is it Legal to Schedule an Employee With Less Than 12 Hours Between Shifts?

by Wilhelm Schnotz; Updated September 26, 2017

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act determines most federal laws that govern the relationship between workers and employers. Written to provide basic protections against abusive workplace situations while balancing an employer’s right to govern his business as he sees fit, the act doesn’t address issues such as the length of shifts, required breaks or required time off. Because of this, employers are free to schedule employees in shifts of any length and without providing at least 12 hours rest between two shifts.

Fair Labor Standards Act Provisions

The Fair Labor Standards Act only requires that employers provide a minimum wage -- $7.25 at the time of publication -- to all workers, save tipped employees. If an employer schedules a worker for more than 40 hours in a workweek, the worker must receive overtime pay equal to 150 percent of his regular hourly wage for all time past 40 hours he works. The FLSA doesn’t limit the amount of consecutive hours an employer may schedule a worker or limit the total amount of hours a worker may be on duty in a week, nor does it mandate minimum rest periods between shifts.

FLSA Exempt Employees

The Fair Labor Standards Act typically only applies to employees employed on an hourly basis. Those who receive salary basis are often exempt from FLSA overtime pay, and may have to work shifts with less than 12 hours of rest between them. For an employee to be exempt from FLSA overtime laws, he must receive the same amount of salary pay per week, at least $455 at the time of publication, regardless of the number of hours he works or the amount of work he produces in that time frame.

State Laws

Many states provide additional protections to workers through state labor laws. These laws vary widely from state to state, and usually mirror FLSA provisions. In some cases, states mandate that workers receive rest periods when they work more than a proscribed amount of consecutive hours or that workers receive a minimum wage higher than the one required by federal law. Most states don’t place restrictions on scheduling adult workers, however, so in most states, workers don’t need to receive a 12-hour break between shifts.

Child Labor

The FLSA doesn’t place limitations on the amount of hours a worker 16 or over may work, nor does it require employers to provide any additional rest breaks or time between shifts to minors. Many state laws provide much tighter restrictions on child workers, though, with several states forbidding minors to work later than certain hours at night or before a certain time in the morning. Several states limit the total number of hours a minor may work in a week during times when school is in session. In some cases, scheduling a minor to work with less than 12 hours between shifts may conflict with state child-labor restrictions. Consult your state’s child labor laws for applicable rules in your jurisdiction.

About the Author

Wilhelm Schnotz has worked as a freelance writer since 1998, covering arts and entertainment, culture and financial stories for a variety of consumer publications. His work has appeared in dozens of print titles, including "TV Guide" and "The Dallas Observer." Schnotz holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Colorado State University.