Work 'em till they drop, America's labor laws.

Work ‘Em ‘Till They Drop
Or It’s One, Two, Three, What Are You Fightin’ For?

From: labor laws

You’re a hard working Joe in America and you believe that our Congress looks out for the welfare of the working citizens of America like you. You know, government of the people, by the people, for the people, all of that stuff. You believe that we live in enlightened times, far from the sweatshops and abuses of the industrial revolution.

Think again.

While the masters in Washington live the good life of perks and get plenty of time off,(1) if you live in the glorious state of Alaska you are not entitled to meal or rest breaks and must work all of the overtime your dear employer desires:

Say what?

Can you spell 24/7?

According to the Alaskan Department of Labor:

“10. What is the law regarding breaks and meal periods?
Alaskan employers are required to provide break periods of at least 30 minutes for minors ages 14 – 17 who work 5 or more consecutive hours. Employers are not required to give breaks for employees 18 and over. If your employer allows breaks, and they last less than 20 minutes, you must be paid for the break. If your employer allows meal periods, the employer is not required to pay you for your meal period if it lasts more than 20 minutes and you do no work during that time.”(2)

And, for Alaska:

“5. Do I have to work overtime if I don't want to?
Your employer may order you to work overtime and may discipline or terminate you if you refuse to work it. Unless your work is exempt from overtime, your employer must pay you 1 ½ times your regular rate of pay for hours worked over 8 per day or 40 straight-time hours per week, whichever occurs.”(2)

That’s right. Twenty-four hours a day until you drop without a break or meal break.

I know. I have worked for thirty-two hours straight on the docks of Alaska without a break or mealtime. I’ve driven front end loaders and forklifts on the docks of Alaska for over thirty hours straight without a break or mealtime until I was hallucinating and ready to pass out.

But wait! Everyone knows that you’re entitled to breaks right? I mean it’s so humane and common sense and safe and fair. Alaska just must be the exception. Isn’t it?


While the following facts may make you want to go out and immediately burn down DC and hang all of the varmints, the cold reality is that there are no Federal labor laws that require employers to make time for employees to take work breaks or eat meals.(3,4,5,6)

The U.S. Department of Labor enforces the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which sets basic minimum wage and overtime pay standards. These standards are enforced by the Department's Wage and Hour Division, a program of the Employment Standards Administration.

From the U.S. Department of Labor’s Website3:
“When must breaks and meal periods be given?
The FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act) does not require breaks or meal periods be given to workers.”(3)

Why the hell not?

However, all is not lost. Twenty states do have laws that include some sort of provisions for work breaks for certain occupations,(4,7 Table 1). That leaves a full thirty states that still live in the Dark Ages and need to be dragged kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century. But beware. Many of these states that do have break laws limit coverage and have weak protection,(4,7) (hope you like working five or six hours straight until you get a break).

What? You want to have breaks and a meal break to be able to eat too? You lazy thing.

Only seven states specifically require a rest break in addition to a meal break for adults.(6,7) Vermont requires only "reasonable opportunities to eat and use toilet facilities." How nice of Vermont to use the word “reasonable”. I guess thirty minutes to eat is just too hard to say.

The good state of Maine requires employers to give employees the opportunity to take an unpaid rest break of thirty consecutive minutes after six hours worked if three or more people are on duty.(8) Otherwise if there are two of you, you’re just SOL and you can just starve. Maine for some unfathomable reason, also felt the need to state that “No coffee, bathroom, or smoking breaks are required.”(8)

Didactically, apparently Arkansas provides breaks for public school employees only.(9)

To check and see if you’re a lucky employee living in a state that grants break or meal times and see the conditions required for breaks, consult Table 17 and reference (4) below. Many of the states that do provide for break or meal times cover only certain occupations and frequently leave out other occupations in which people obviously have easy jobs which don’t require breaks such as agriculture and mining.

To obtain the current status of laws regarding breaks or meal times, contact the individual states’ Departments of Labor.(12,13)


New Hampshire
New York
North Dakota
Rhode Island
West Virginia

And while we’re on this topic of work rights, if you’ve recovered enough to take another shocker, get this. Unbelievably, there are no Federal laws regulating the number of hours that you can be required to work per day or per week.(14,15,16)

That’s right. Work ‘em till they drop, boyo.

However, working hours are federally regulated for some occupations e.g., transportation workers, train engineers, air traffic controllers and airline pilots.(17,18)

Thank God. Wouldn’t you just want airline pilots to work three days straight without a break, like you can be forced to under Federal law?

Starting to feel like you’re living in the eighteenth century?

It just keeps getting better. Well, you think. Didn’t Lincoln emancipate the slaves? Surely, states must limit the amount of hours you can be forced to work if the Feds don’t.

In general, no federal law limits the number of hours an adult may work in a day or the number of days in a week. While some states have laws requiring a day of rest or observation each week, astonishingly Maine is the only state that specifically limits the number of hours of overtime (eighty!)19 that an employer can require an employee to work in a 2-week period.(18,19)

Yes, that’s right. In the honorable state of Maine, you could legally be required to work five days straight without a break or meal time as long as you had the next nine days off. Cool.

Many states do have laws limiting the number of hours that certain categories of workers and professions may work,18 Table 2. Of course, the hardest working Joes, those employed in agriculture or fishing, are usually, strangely exempt from protection.

There are seven states in which some employees must receive one day off from work out of every seven (essentially, one day a week). These states are listed below6 and noted in Table 2. Frequently, this required day off arises from an historical religious basis. You get a day off if you’re willing to spend it worshipping a god.

• California
• Illinois
• Maryland
• Massachusetts
• New York
• North Dakota
• Rhode Island “employees cannot be discharged or penalized for refusing to work any Sunday or Holiday unless they are employed by a manufacturer which operates for seven (7) continuous days per week.”(20)

Fortunately, with an increasing awareness of the dangers of overworking healthcare workers, fifteen states now prohibit mandatory overtime for nurses.21 But, hmmm. That apparently leaves thirty-five states that don’t. Oh, well, the next time you’re in the hospital keep an eye on your nurse and make sure she’s at least semi-coherent.

Do you need a nurse now that you’re feeling sick to your stomach after reading this? Well, as far as federal law goes, unless the employee has a condition that qualifies under the FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) or ADA (American with Disabilities Act) the employer is under no legal obligation to grant sick days or approve time off for illness.(22,23)

Yeah, that’s right. You can be required to work even if you’re possessed by a demon and puking your guts out like Linda Blair.

But wait! What about the FMLA? Think you’re eligible to be covered under the FMLA?

“An FMLA eligible employee is an employee who has been employed by the employer for at least 12 months and worked at least 1,250 hours. The 12 months do not need to be consecutive. You are only an eligible employee if your employer employs 50 or more employees within 75 miles of the worksite.”23,24 But, but but, your bottom lip quivers, I don’t work with 50 people. Too bad, how sad.

Now that you’re staring glassy eyed out the window after reading these facts and now that you understand very clearly what the aristocracy thinks of you, how about this?

The Labor Law in Mexico provides a half-hour break during the work day and for a maximum of 8 hours per day and 48 hours of work per week.(25,26)


And, how about them Europeans?

“The European Union's working time directive imposes a 48 hour maximum working week that applies to every member state except the United Kingdom (which has an opt-out meaning that UK-based employees can work longer than 48 hours if they wish, but they cannot be forced to do so).[citation needed] France has enacted a 35-hour workweek by law, and similar results have been produced in other countries such as Germany through collective bargaining. A major reason for the low annual hours worked in Europe is a relatively high amount of paid annual leave. Fixed employment comes with four to six weeks of holiday as standard.”(25)

35 hours a week for those know-nothing frogs?

Four to six weeks of holiday as standard for those other Eurotrash lazy so and so’s?

What’s going on here?

It’s high time to demand that we stop being treated like some farm animal or factory farmed chicken. Let your local legislators know that if they don’t enact work laws protecting the American worker they’re the ones who will be getting a long break.

If all of this sticks in your craw, I suggest the next time the Feds arm you and set you out in some desert somewhere to bring freedom and democracy, but evidently not humane labor laws, to someone who really doesn’t seem to like you, consider which way you should point that gun. After all, that guy you’ve been sent to liberate probably gets meal and break times and probably lots of break times to pray to Mecca.

Other good sources for information regarding state labor laws can be found in references (27), and (28).

Table 2 presented below is a general guide to state policies regarding apparent mandatory overtime and maximum work hours allowed. The individual states’ Departments of Labor13,27,28 should be contacted for current, comprehensive and definitive statements on these issues.

TABLE 2: Mandatory Overtime Laws

Alabama no law,
Alaska no law
Arizona no law,
Arkansas no law,
California Industry specific, one day in seven,
Colorado no law
Connecticut no law
Delaware no law
Florida no law,,
Georgia no law
Hawaii no law
Idaho no law,
Illinois one day in seven ILCS 140/&ChapterID=68&ChapterName=EMPLOYMENT&ActName=One+Day+Rest+In+Seven+Act%2E
Indiana no law
Iowa no law
Kansas no law
Kentucky no law,,
Louisiana no law,,
Maine No more than 80 hours OT in a consecutive two week period
Maryland one unpaid religious day of rest each week for retail employees, otherwise no law,,
Massachusetts Sunday work regulated, One day in seven off law, other limitations see,,,
Michigan no law,1607,7-154-27673_32352---,00.html,
Minnesota no law
Mississippi no law,
Missouri Only certain industries, otherwise no law,,,
Montana certain occupations hours limited,
Nebraska no law,
Nevada no law
New Hampshire no law
New Jersey Healthcare workers some limitations otherwise no laws,
New Mexico no laws,,
New York Nurses exempt from mandatory OT, Some industries one day in seven off.,
North Carolina no law,
North Dakota One day off in seven
Ohio no laws,
Oklahoma no law,
Oregon Maximum 13 hrs per day for mills, factories or manufacturing establishments, see exemptions,
Pennsylvania no law|&TNID=1024#2,,
Rhode Island Nurses exempt from mandatory OT,
Employees cannot be discharged or penalized for refusing to work any Sunday or Holiday unless they are employed by a manufacturer which operates for seven (7) continuous days per week.
South Carolina no law,,
South Dakota no law,
Tennessee no law,
Texas, Nurses excluded from mandatory OT,
otherwise no law but, see b),,,
b) Retail employees one day in seven
Utah no law,
Vermont no law,
Virginia no law,,
Washington no law
West Virginia no law
Wisconsin In factories and mercantile establishments, Wisconsin sets limits in which employees must have one day of rest somewhere in a seven-day work week, by the “One Day of Rest in Seven” law otherwise apparently only specific laws:
Wyoming no law


With apologies to Country Joe and the Fish…

And it’s one, two, three, what are you fightin’ for
Do ask me
I do give a damn
Next stop is Uncle Sam


12. Asked question 1619 9/13
27. Asked question 1619 9/13