What Is an Hourly Employee?

Definition & Examples of Hourly Employees

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An hourly employee is paid a wage for each hour worked, unlike a salaried employee, who is paid a flat wage regardless of how many hours worked during a workweek.

Find out more about hourly employees and how they're paid.

What Is an Hourly Employee?

An hourly employee is paid for the number of hours they work per week at a determined rate. Per federal law, hourly workers are entitled to overtime pay for hours worked over 40 hours per workweek.

Employees paid on an hourly basis are paid for actual hours worked. Unlike many salaried employees, hours per week may fluctuate based on a worker’s weekly schedule or rotated shifts, and therefore wages can vary for that employee from week to week.

How Hourly Employees Work

Workers who are paid on an hourly basis are required to be paid minimum wage at the least. These rates vary from state to state, and employers are required to pay either the state or federal minimum wage—whichever is higher.

Each state department of labor website offers details about the minimum wage in that area.

Overtime Pay for Hourly Employees

There are differences between classifications of employees based upon the type of work they do and their eligibility for overtime pay.

Exempt employees are not entitled to the enforced provisions of the Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA) like overtime pay. Effective January 1, 2020, a worker can only be designated as an exempt employee if they are paid at least $684 per week ($35,568/year).

Non-exempt employees must be paid both minimum wage and overtime pay for any time worked beyond 40 hours in any given workweek. According to the FLSA, non-exempt employees are entitled to time and one-half their hourly wage for every hour of overtime.

The majority of people working an hourly wage are considered non-exempt employees. Most non-exempt employees in the U.S. are offered employment “at will,” meaning that both they and the employer can terminate the professional relationship at any time for any reason, so long as it is not discriminatory.

There are certain tests to determine exempt versus non-exempt status that apply to executive, administrative, and professional employees, as well as workers in certain positions, including computer and outside sales jobs.

If workers meet these tests and the income criteria, they’re considered exempt, meaning that overtime provisions don’t apply to them. Typically, exempt employees will not earn any extra payment for hours worked over a standard workweek.

What’s more, there are some states with regulations governing overtime pay. In locations where an employee is subject to both state and federal overtime laws, overtime is paid according to the standard that will provide the higher amount of pay.

Some employers, however, may voluntarily pay exempt employees some compensation for additional hours, but they must remain compliant with laws related to these payments. Examples of additional compensation can include bonuses, flat sums, and additional paid or unpaid time off.

Additionally, an employer can determine a standard workweek for his or her own company, and not necessarily the 40-hour workweek expected of non-exempt employees. For instance, a financial company may establish a standard workweek to be 60 hours for exempt employees, while a department store may only require 30 hours.

Benefits for Hourly Workers

Depending on company policy, hourly workers may be entitled to employee benefits, including vacation, sick time, life insurance, and health care for themselves and their families. In some cases, these benefits and the employer’s contribution may be less than those offered to salaried employees.

Some businesses designate qualifying periods anywhere from thirty days to three months before offering benefits packages to make sure that the employee is a good fit for the company and will stay long enough to make the organization’s investment worthwhile.

Key Takeaways

  • Hourly employees are paid a wage for each hour of work they complete.
  • They must be paid at least the minimum wage per hour based on state or federal guidelines—whichever is higher.
  • They're usually considered non-exempt employees and must be paid overtime wages starting after 40 hours of work in a week.
  • Whether hourly workers qualify for benefits depends on the policies of their employer.

Article Sources

  1. U.S. Department of Labor. "Overtime Pay," Accessed July 26, 2020.

  2. U.S. Department of Labor. "Highlights of the Final Rule on Overtime Eligibility for White Collar Employees." Accessed July 26, 2020.

  3. U.S. Department of Labor. "Exemption for Executive, Administrative, Professional, Computer & Outside Sales Employees Under the Fair Labor Standards Act," Accessed Dec. July 26, 2020.