Is working 48 hours straight legal?

I work 24 hour shifts in healthcare. Recently, my employer started a mandatory overtime that requires you to sometimes work 48 hours straight. Is there any wrong to this? What if the second 24 hours is considered unsafe for the patients, co-workers and myself?

Asked on February 17, 2016 under Employment Labor Law, South Carolina


M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

Unless your occupation is specifically exempted, in the majority of states, there is no limit on how many hours in a row that an employee can be made to work. In other words, unless you are a resident/intern in a hospital, an airline pilot, trunk driver or the like, you can be scheduled for however many hours/days in a row as your employer mandates. While it may not be the safest situation for those concerned and therefore not advisable, it is legal. The fact is that in an "at will" employment arrangement a company can set the conditions of employment much as it sees fit. Therefore, this action is legal unless it violates company policy or the terms of a union agreement or employment contract. Also, it must not constitute some form of actionable discrimination. That having been said, if you are a non-exempt worker, you are eligible for overtime pay for any hours worked over 40 in a week.

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

No, it is perfectly legal. Outside of a very few, specifically regulated professions (e.g. truck drivers; airline pilots) there are no limits on how many hours or in a row an employer can require you to work. If there is an injury because of excessive hours it's possible that the employer may be liable--but that is an after-the-fact remedy. Looking foward, you can be required to work 48 hours in a row.

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