Navigating the complexities of overtime pay

Susanne K. Cantu

Overtime pay, while a fundamental aspect of employee compensation, remains one of the more complex elements for employers to manage effectively. It’s governed by a mixture of federal, state, and sometimes even local laws, each with its own set of rules and exceptions. This complexity can lead to inadvertent errors, potentially resulting in costly legal consequences and employee dissatisfaction. This blog post aims to navigate the intricacies of overtime pay, highlighting less-discussed but critical considerations for employers.

Understanding the federal baseline

The overlooked aspect: the fair labor standards act (flsa) sets the federal standard for overtime pay, requiring time-and-a-half for hours worked over 40 in a workweek. However, what’s often overlooked is the flsa’s criteria for exempt and non-exempt employees, which can be nuanced, especially concerning job duties and salary thresholds. Misclassification can lead to significant compliance issues.

Strategy: regularly review the duties and compensation of your employees against the flsa criteria to ensure proper classification. Updates to exemption criteria, like the salary threshold adjustments that occur periodically, can affect employee eligibility for overtime.

State and local variations

The overlooked aspect: many states have their own laws regarding overtime pay, some more stringent than the flsa. California, for example, requires overtime pay for hours worked over 8 in a day and double time for hours worked over 12. Additionally, some municipalities have their own regulations, adding another layer of complexity.

Strategy: employers must familiarize themselves with the overtime laws not just of the states where they operate but also any local ordinances. Consulting with legal experts in each jurisdiction can help navigate these varying requirements.

Calculating overtime on bonuses and commissions

The overlooked aspect: the inclusion of non-discretionary bonuses and commissions in the calculation of overtime pay is a detail often missed. The flsa mandates that these earnings be included in the regular rate of pay when calculating overtime, which can significantly impact the overtime rate.

Strategy: develop a clear policy on what constitutes a non-discretionary bonus versus a discretionary one and accurately track commissions and bonuses. Adjust your payroll system to ensure these earnings are correctly factored into overtime calculations.

Managing unauthorized overtime

The overlooked aspect: employers sometimes believe that if overtime was not approved in advance, it does not have to be paid. This misconception can lead to legal challenges. The flsa requires that all overtime work be compensated, whether it was authorized or not.

Strategy: implement clear policies regarding overtime authorization and ensure they are communicated to all employees. While unauthorized overtime can be grounds for disciplinary action, it must still be paid according to legal requirements.

Handling overtime for remote workers

The overlooked aspect: with the rise of remote work, accurately tracking work hours has become more challenging, increasing the potential for overtime compliance issues. The lack of direct supervision can lead to misunderstandings about work hours and overtime eligibility.

Strategy: utilize digital time-tracking tools that allow remote employees to accurately record their work hours. Establish clear guidelines about work hours and overtime policies specific to remote work to ensure compliance and transparency.

Training frontline managers

The overlooked aspect: frontline managers play a crucial role in managing overtime, yet they often lack the necessary training on overtime laws and company policies. This gap can lead to inconsistent enforcement and potential compliance issues.

Strategy: provide comprehensive training to all managers and supervisors on the legal requirements for overtime pay and your company’s policies for authorization and management of overtime work.


Navigating the complexities of overtime pay requires a multifaceted approach, encompassing a deep understanding of legal requirements, diligent management practices, and effective communication with employees. By addressing the often overlooked aspects of overtime pay and implementing strategic measures, employers can ensure compliance, prevent costly legal disputes, and maintain a fair and transparent compensation system.