Justice for All

European and US Law: Working Hours

In the USA the federal work week standard is 40 hours, but in practice this is sometimes considered part-time. Yet in many states working more than a certain number of hours brings overtime pay into play. Standards vary widely. In California every minute after the 8th hour in any given day is subject to overtime pay. In New York overtime begins after the 40th hour worked in a week. Consequently, New York employees may work four 10-hour days and not be paid overtime, whereas in California this results in eight hours regular pay plus two hours overtime for each of the four days. Overtime in the USA is calculated as ‘time and a half, or 1.5 times normal wages (plus 50%’ in European terminology).

In Europe the situation is even more muddled than in the US. Famously, the French work week is 35 hours, with limitations on overtime. To show that this is not a typical European phenomenon the Swiss workweek is 45 hours in the services, industrial and retail industries and 50 hours elsewhere. But the difference is not limited to the standard work week. Notably overtime pay and resting time are subject to different numbers of hours. In Austria the official work week is 40 hours although most employees work 38 to 39 hours. Weekday overtime pay is plus 50%, on Sundays and holidays plus 100%. Employees must take an 11-hour period between two work days. Germans work between 36 and 39 hours a week, capped at 48 hours including overtime. Overtime pay is to be paid plus 25%, night work plus 10%. Belgium makes it even more complicated with a five-day, 38-hour workweek, meaning that not all working days are equally long. Further, overtime pay is plus 50% on Sundays and plus 100% on holidays. Employees may not work more overtime than 11 hours per day, 50 hours per week and must take an 11-hour period between two work days.