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Payroll & Taxes

How Does Overtime Work?

Christine Batten, PHR
by Christine Batten, PHR on March 4, 2014

Calculating wage and hour for exempt vs. non-exempt employees

How does overtime work at your company? Overtime pay for hourly employees has an additional pay rate for working more than a specific number of hours in a week. There is a minimum for overtime in the United States. This minimum requires hourly employees ​to be paid one-and-a-half times the regular hourly rate for work over 40 hours a week. Whether you are an employer or employee, it is important to understand your company’s guidelines. 

When you’re an employer calculating overtime pay for an employee, the definition of “work week” means something very significant in legal terms. It’s actually the basis of determining overtime for purposes of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

The FLSA applies on a work week basis. An employee's work week is a fixed and regularly recurring period of 168 hours -- seven consecutive 24-hour periods. The employer is free to determine the work week and it need not coincide with the calendar week. It may begin on any day and at any hour of the day.

It is a good practice to establish the work week in writing (in your employee handbook) so your employees are also aware of what their overtime pay is based on. For example: “The Company’s seven-day work week is from 12:00 a.m. Monday through 11:59 p.m. the following Sunday.”

Bi-Weekly and Semi-Monthly Pay Periods

With a few exceptions, the law does not require that your pay period be a single work week. Under most circumstances, employers are free to pay weekly, bi-weekly (every other week) or semi-monthly (twice a month). However, regardless of your pay frequency, the rules regarding the determination of overtime remain the same: it is based on a seven day work week.

It is likely that if you pay weekly, your work week will coincide with your pay period, so there is limited confusion when it comes to the definition of overtime. But it’s a little more complicated for employers who pay bi-weekly and semi-monthly.

Bi-weekly Pay Periods

One might assume that since a bi-weekly pay period is equivalent to two seven-day work weeks, you would simply pay overtime if an employee works more than 80 hours in the pay period. However, it’s not that simple. An employee may work only 80 hours in a pay period but still be due overtime. For example, if the employee works 45 hours in one week but only 35 the next week (total 80 in the pay period), they would still be entitled to 5 hours of overtime (having worked more than 40 hours the first week).

Semi-monthly Pay Periods

Having a semi-monthly (twice a month) pay period can complicate things even more. Typically this pay frequency means employees are paid on the 1st and 15th of the month or the 15th and the last. Since there are not an even amount of work weeks in a month (and also not in a semi-monthly pay cycle), sometimes the work week will end during the upcoming pay period (and you’ll know how much overtime is due) or the work week may not end until the beginning of the next pay period and thus you would pay it on that next pay period.

For example:
The employer's seven-day period runs from Sunday to Saturday, and their semi-monthly period is the 1st-15th, 16th thru end of the month.

Work Week OT Pay Table


For the period of the 1st through the 15th, the employee must be compensated for 88 regular and 10 overtime hours. This figure includes the 80 regular hours from Weeks 1 and 2, the 10 overtime hours from Weeks 1 and 2, and the 8 regular hours worked on the 15th in Week 3.

For the period of the 16th through the 31st, the employee must be compensated for 94 regular hours and 14 overtime hours. This includes the remaining 32 regular hours from Week 3, the 5 overtime hours from Week 3, the 40 regular and 9 overtime hours from Week 4, and the 22 hours worked through the 31st on Week 5.

Note: some states may have special overtime calculations that need to be taken into consideration, but this specific example is based on the federal FLSA rules.

This is why it is imperative that your recordkeeping is done properly and consistently so you can show that you tracked hours on a weekly basis (regardless of when employees are paid) and that you paid overtime appropriately when it’s due: when an employee worked more than 40 hours in a work week.

If you have specific questions on calculating employee pay and overtime or are interested in ways that FrankCrum can help you with HR and wage and hour issues you’re currently facing, please contact us. We’re here for you! In the meantime, check out our free interactive overtime calculator to learn more. 

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Christine Batten, PHR
Christine Batten, PHR

Christine has over 20 years of HR related experience with a background in labor and employment law.