What is a Workday?

by Pullman & Comley - Labor, Employment and Employee Benefits Law

Connecticut has an interesting statute, Conn. Gen. Stat. 31-21, which declares that “eight hours of labor performed in any one day by any one person shall be a legal day’s work unless otherwise agreed.”  But what is the meaning of a ‘legal day’s work,” and does it restrict employers and employees who would like to have longer workshifts?

The answer is that the statute, though never repealed, no longer has any practical effect, and does not restrict longer work schedules.   The statute was passed in 1867, well before the Fair Labor Standards Act and related state wage-hour laws institutionalized the hourly wage and provided for overtime for longer work hours.  In the 1860’s it was much more common for workers to agree to a set amount of pay for a day or a week (in one case from 1870 the pay was $1.50 for a day of work),  so the laborer could stop work after eight hours and have a legal right to his “day’s” pay.

A remnant of the concept of a legal day’s work survives in the statute which governs the rights of employees who are summoned for jury duty, Conn. Gen. Stat. 51-247a.  A juror-employee who serves eight hours of jury duty is deemed to have worked a legal day’s work, and cannot be required by his employer to go to work in excess of eight hours. Conversely, an employee who reports for jury duty but is dismissed early can be required to report to work.

In addition, there are various more limited restrictions on the length of a workday which still apply to Connecticut employers.  According to Conn. Gen. Stat. 31-12, minors under 18 who have not graduated from high school may not work more than nine-hour days (and 48-hour weeks) in manufacturing or mechanical establishments; i.e., with machines.  Minors are further restricted to six-hour days on school days and 32-hour weeks when school is in session.  These restrictions do not apply to persons under 18 who have graduated from high school.

This statute also applies the nine-hour day, 48-hour week restriction to persons over age 65 (which the statute calls “the elderly”), handicapped persons, and disabled veterans, except that people in these categories can give their consent to longer hours.  Whether there actually are any  elderly, handicapped or disabled employees who are somehow being forced to work longer hours without their consent is problematic, but the statute provides protection nonetheless.

Conn. Gen. Stat. 31-13 provides slightly different workday limitations for “mercantile establishments,” i.e., retail.  Minors under 18 who have not graduated from high school are limited to eight-hour days and six days per week.  The elderly, the handicapped, and disabled veterans are similarly protected, but again can give consent.  The statute even recognizes the Christmas rush, and exempts employees who otherwise give paid holidays during the year from these workday limitations between December 18 and December 25.

Times of work are also regulated for minors.  Per Conn. Gen. Stat. 31-14, no one under 18 make work in manufacturing, mechanical or mercantile establishments between 10 pm and 6 am., although the evening restriction moves to 11 pm for any night which does not precede a school day.   There is also limited permission in Conn. Gen. Stat. 31-18 for 16-year-old’s to work in amusement or recreational establishments, restaurants and theaters, with detailed restrictions on hours and on work during school days.

There used to be similar statutes regulating the employment of women, but no longer.  Two statutes with rather intriguing titles: “Employment of women between one a.m. and six a.m.” and “Hours of women entertainers,” have been repealed.  Also repealed was a statute which regulated the hours that women could work in bowling alleys, shoe-shining establishments, and billiard and pool rooms.

Other laws provide indirect limitations on the length of a workday.  Conn. Gen. Stat. 31-51ii requires a 30-minute, unpaid meal break in the middle of a work day that exceeds 7 and ½ hours.  The state and federal Family and Medical Leave Laws, generally applicable to employers with 50 or more employees, allow an employee with proper medical certification to take “reduced leave,” which actually means reduced work, and could include a limitation on the length of each workday; for example, no more than five hours of work even though the employer’s normal business schedule might be eight hours per day.

Finally, Conn. Gen. Stat. 53-302a purports to exempt Sunday from being a workday, but the statute lists many exceptions for restaurants, supermarkets, convenience stores, pharmacies, gas stations and so on.  As a general proposition, businesses which serve the public more or less directly can be open on Sundays, but not factories or offices.  Conn. Gen. Stat. 53-303b extends the Sunday protection, and the exemptions, to Thanksgiving Day, Christmas, New Year’s Day, Memorial Day and Independence Day.  A related statute, Conn. Gen. Stat. 53-303e (which replaced a statute prohibiting work on the Sabbath), prohibits more than six days of work in any calendar week, so one day out of every seven will never be a workday.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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