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What Is a Workweek Anyway?

168 hours in a week

A workweek has different meanings depending on who you talk to so it’s no surprise that business owners can get a little lost on the topic.

The common definition differs from the payroll definition, which makes it particularly difficult to sort out. But sort out you must, because when it comes to business the payroll definition is the one that counts since that’s the one used in wage and hour disputes.

Let’s start with our day to day definition of a workweek:

“The total amount of hours or days that you spend working at a job in one week.” – Merriam Webster

It is this definition that gives us the idea that a workweek is Monday through Friday and a weekend is Saturday and Sunday. So you’ve got a workweek and a weekend.

But when you’re talking about payroll, there’s no such thing as a weekend. There is just a week, a workweek.

According to the Department of Labor a workweek actually includes all seven days, whether you work them all or not.

The reason is this:

In order to define how overtime should be calculated you need to define a period in which to calculate it. This must include all seven days of the week because a person could work any of those seven days.

“Workweek (any fixed and regularly recurring period of 168 hours — seven consecutive 24-hour periods)” – DOL

The definitions differ in the week’s length and regularity. While the common definition could include five days Monday through Friday one week and four days Wednesday through Saturday the next week, depending on when the person actually worked, the DOL’s definition requires that the workweek is always seven days long and that it always starts at the same time. The DOL’s definition is more of an abstract workweek rather than an actual workweek. It recurs week after week regardless of whether anyone actually works.

Set the Workweek and Forget It

In trying to figure out when to start this abstract workweek you’ll want to choose a date and time when your employee is typically not working. So, for an employee that works a standard Monday through Friday, nine to five schedule, you probably don’t want to start your workweek at 8:59am on Monday because the employee might come in early occasionally. The best time and day to start a workweek is before their normal week of work begins (here’s where the common definition comes in handy!) and at a time when they don’t normally work.

The typical time and date of the workweek is Sunday at midnight. The majority of workers don’t work at that time so it’s a good general time to use. However, if you had a night worker whose schedule was Tuesday through Sunday, the best workweek might start at noon on Monday. For employees that don’t work a regular schedule, it really doesn’t matter when you start it.

Customizing a workweek to suit your own needs is totally agreeable to the DOL but you do need to be sure and keep it the same from week to week. You can change it if the employee’s regular schedule changes but this is generally a rare thing.

Changing the Workweek Changes Overtime

The reason you can’t just change a workweek whenever you feel like it is because doing so could affect overtime calculations as I’ve discussed before in this post and this post.

The Workweek May Not Match the Pay Period

Unless you run payroll on a weekly or biweekly basis and your employees work a regular schedule that begins at the beginning of the week, overtime for a given workweek may not be captured on the check for that period.

Basically, if the pay period cuts a workweek in half, the overtime from that workweek isn’t paid until the next check. This can be a little tough to wrap your head around but it’s worth noting that overtime doesn’t always show up on the check the that employee expects to see it on.

We don’t typically recommend that users change their workweeks within our software because it can lead to confusion but if you understand all this then go right ahead and customize away!

Set your workweek and let do the rest.

21 Responses

  1. my work week starts on a Wednesday and end on Tuesday .my employer works me Tues ,wed, thur, fri, sat, sun,. I am working 6 eight hour days in a row but 8 hours is not in the same work week should I get over time my days off change every week so I work six days in a row alot and do not get overtime pay.

    1. Overtime is calculated based on the start of your work week, and the start of your workweek is entirely dependent on your employer. That being said, your employer can choose to change the start of your work week, but that might make the payroll process a lot harder and confusing for your employer.

  2. James, to answer your question, if you are a non-exempt employee and you work an 8-hour shift six days during a seven day period (whether consecutive days or not), you are entitled to overtime pay of 8 hours.

    You said your employer’s workweek starts on Wednesday and ends on Tuesday. So your work schedule during that workweek is Weds, Thurs, Fri, Sat, Sun, Tues (6 days x 8 hrs = 48 hours in a given workweek). Just because you have Monday off and your six days of work are not consecutive within the workweek does not mean your employer can refuse to pay you overtime.

    1. A workweek is set by your employer, and the workweek has to be 168 hours. So, your workweek could go Tues-Mon, Wed-Tues, Mon-Sun, and so on. In your case, Monday can technically count as a “weekend day” depending on how your employer set up your work week.

  3. when working 24/7 shift what is the actual workweeK?? Is it the first day of one Tour of Duty ? or the set Sunday is the first day ??

    1. Hi Kwame, you’ll have to ask your employer when your workweek starts and ends. Your workweek should equal to 168 hours, and your workweek can technically start on any day at any time.

  4. Hi …actually I want to know that I am working at one place where the new week starts on Saturday and also I work on other place cuz they don’t give me 20 hours but over there the week starts on Monday to Sunday so is there any problem in it ….

    1. Hi Farding, I’m not sure I understand your question. If you’re working two separate jobs under two different LLCs, the start of your workweek for either job shouldn’t affect anything. Can you please explain your question further?

  5. I keep seeing different wording on work week vs pay period. On my pay stub it’s worded pay period: Monday-Sunday and pay date Fri. Does that mean the work week is Monday-Sunday? Or some other set of days not listed on pay stub?

    1. Hi Nicole, I’m not sure what your pay stub looks like, so I can’t fully answer your question. Typically a workweek is a 168-hour period, therefore, yes– your workweek could start on Monday and end on Sunday. Your pay period date depends on how your employer sets up your payroll period. I.e. you might have a weekly pay period, monthly, semi-monthly, and so on. So, the “pay period” on your pay stub, I assume, is the pay period your employer chose and isn’t a reflection of your actual workweek. I think it’s best that you ask your employer what the “pay period” means on your check.

    1. It depends on what state and city you live in, but it’s typically legal to work that much in a workweek. Currently, there aren’t any federal laws that prohibit an employer from asking an employee to work 6 days a week at 10-hours per shift. You can check with your local labor board to see if there are some exceptions for your area.

  6. We switched to a 40 hour work week this year. Work week is Sunday-Saturday. If someone works 2 hours extra on Monday but takes Friday off…. Would the 2 hours be paid at straight time or no additional pay is due because the employee didn’t physically work over 40 hours.

    1. That depends on what state you work in and what the rules are for overtime/double time. Typically you are paid at 1.0X your normal pay rate unless you work overtime hours (usually that’s anything over 40 hours in a workweek).

  7. We get paid every two weeks. Work week is Wed. to Tues. So during our two weeks, we have a full Monday to Friday week We are closed on Sat. and Sun. So on our time cards, we have Wed. to Frid., monday to friday and then mon. and Tues. To get overtime, do you count all the days worked? Does that make sense?

    1. Hi Lori. I’m not sure what state you live in, so I can’t give you a direct answer. However, I can tell you that you’re supposed to get paid for all hours you work, including overtime hours after 40 hours in a workweek (or perhaps after 8 hours in a day if you’re in California, for example). If the start of your workweek starts on Wednesday at 12:00am and ends on Tuesday at 11:59pm, then your overtime will be based on that. Any hours worked Wednesday through Tuesday will count as one workweek (this totals to 168 hours) and you’ll get overtime based on that specific time frame. The federal govt says that employees earn 1.5x their normal rate of pay after 40 hours in a workweek. If you worked more than 40 hours Wednesday through Tuesday, any hours over 40 hours would count as overtime hours.

  8. Hello, I work Sunday night 11:00pm to 7:30am Friday morning, 8 hour shift. It comes up to 56 hours. But get no overtime. this schedule is every other week. The pay period is Monday to Sunday. I get Friday, and Saturday off. Work Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, off Wed and Thursday. Then work Sunday thru Friday morning for 7 days in a row for 56 hours. Is this legal to work 56 hour in 7 days with no overtime?

    1. Hello. If you have shifts from 11pm to 7:30am Sunday through Friday, your total hours for the week should be about 40 hours per week. Sunday 11pm to Monday 7:30am is 8.5 hours; Monday 11pm to Tuesday 7:30am is 8.5 hours; Tuesday 11pm to Wednesday 7:30am is 8.5 hours; . Wednesday 11pm to Thursday 7:30am is 8.5 hours; and Thursday 11pm to Friday 7:30am is 8.5 hours. Assuming you have a 30-minute meal break every shift, your total working hours should be 40 hours. I’m not entirely sure how you’re getting 56 hours. The pay period doesn’t dictate how much overtime you get– the workweek does. You need to speak with your supervisor regarding when your workweek officially starts and ends (and your workweek is a total of 168 hours) that way you’ll know when overtime is calculated.

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