The Fair Labor Standards Act, a federal labor law that outlines the rules for minimum wage and overtime, says that the vast majority of American workers should be paid at premium rates for working extra hours. But the Fair Labor Standards Act doesn’t set any limit on how many hours an employee can work in a week, and most employers are well within their legal rights requiring employees to work overtime.
In other words, mandatory overtime is legal for most employees. If you don’t like how many hours your boss makes you work, you’re only viable option is to quit. It might sound crazy, but a company can force you to work overtime.
Mandatory Overtime In Nursing
Hospitals, nursing homes and rehab facilities across the nation have made mandatory overtime a standard practice. America is facing a nursing shortage, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. As the Baby Boomer generation ages, an unprecedented number of patients have entered the health-care system. All of them need care, and they deserve expert care. But many healthcare facilities are chronically-understaffed.
Rather than investing in ways to keep good nurses on the job, most hospitals and nursing homes simply force their existing workers to work more, work longer, work harder and eventually, burn out. Not only does mandatory overtime exploit nurses, it threatens patient safety. Numerous studies have found that increasing a nurse’s hours raises the risk of errors and adverse events.
18 States Restrict Mandatory Overtime By Law
In most industries, forced overtime is perfectly legal. But for workers in the healthcare industry, the situation may be different.
Thankfully, a number of states have stood up to mandatory overtime in the healthcare industry, either prohibiting the practice altogether or severely limiting an employer’s ability to require extra hours. So far, eighteen states have passed legislation or instituted regulations on mandatory overtime in the nursing industry:
Before we dive into the specific provisions contained in these laws, we’ll cover the requirements that most of them share in common.
Forced Overtime Laws Require Dependable Schedules
Most of these state laws say hourly nurses need reasonable, predetermined schedules, and that once their shifts are scheduled, they can’t be forced to work more than that.
Where an employer’s right to enforce mandatory overtime has been limited, nurses are usually still allowed to work overtime if they choose. A few states, on the other hand, have set absolute maximums beyond which most nurses can’t work – whether they want to or not.
Most states have also made federally-operated healthcare facilities “exempt” from their prohibitions on mandatory overtime. For LPNs and RNs working at VA and other public hospitals, mandatory overtime may still be legal. This “government-run” exception usually doesn’t apply to state or municipal facilities.
Mandatory Overtime Laws: State-By-State
In Alaska, mandatory overtime is illegal. Nurses cannot be forced to work beyond their regularly scheduled shifts.
Nurses can elect to work overtime, but no shift can last longer than 14 consecutive hours.
In California, mandatory overtime is prohibited by regulation, and nurses have the right to refuse overtime free from any fear of retaliation.
Nursing employees cannot be required to work more than 12 hours in a 24-hour period, except in cases of emergency.
In Connecticut hospitals, nurses are guaranteed predetermined work schedules, and cannot be forced to work beyond their scheduled shifts.
Exceptions exist for the completion of procedures and emergency situations.
In Illinois, hospitals are only allowed to require overtime in cases of unforeseen emergency. Even in cases of emergency, nurses cannot work longer than 4 hours beyond their scheduled shift.
Nurses who work 12 hours must take an 8 hour rest break afterwards.
In Maine, mandatory overtime is illegal. Employers cannot penalize a nurse for refusing to work overtime. Exceptions exist for emergency situations.
After working overtime, hourly nurses in Maine must be given at least 10 consecutive hours off.
In Maryland, mandatory overtime is illegal. Employers cannot require nurses to work longer than the regularly scheduled hours outlined in a predetermined schedule.
Exceptions exist if a nurse has critical skills that become necessary in some situations, or in the event of an emergency.
In Massachusetts, mandatory overtime is illegal. Employers are not allowed to require nurses to work beyond their regularly-scheduled shifts and no shift can exceed 12 hours in one day.
An exception exists for emergency situations in which a patient’s safety is in jeopardy and no reasonable alternative can be found.
In Minnesota, mandatory overtime is illegal.
Employers are prohibited from taking any action against a nurse who refuses to work beyond a “normal work period.” Normal work period is defined as 12 or less consecutive hours in accordance with a predetermined shift schedule.
As in most states, an exception exists for emergency situations. But unlike other places, Minnesota law considers times when replacement staff are unable to report for duty an emergency.
In 2007, this law was extended to cover nurses considered employees of the State of Minnesota, except those working in facilities overseen by the Department of Corrections, like prisons.
State regulations require that hospitals and other healthcare facilities develop and follow organizational policies for nursing overtime.
For LPNs, mandatory overtime is a violation of state regulation, except in the case of unforeseen staffing shortages where patient’s safety is put at risk. Prior to mandating an LPN works overtime, the facility must make a “reasonable effort” to find additional staffing some other way.
In New Hampshire, mandatory overtime is illegal. No medical facility can require RNs, LPNs or licensed nursing assistants work shifts longer than 12 consecutive hours. Nurses have every right to refuse overtime and cannot be punished in any way for doing so.
Exceptions exist for true emergency situations, including when nurses are participating in surgical procedures. If a nurse is required to work more than 12 hours in an emergency, they are entitled to 8 hours of time-off immediately afterwards.
In New Jersey, mandatory overtime is illegal in nursing homes and hospitals.
Employers are prohibited from requiring that hourly nurses work beyond a mutually agreed-upon and regularly scheduled shift every day. The amount of hours in a workweek can exceed 40, but healthcare facilities aren’t allowed to force you to work over 40.
In New York, mandatory overtime is illegal. Nurses cannot be required to work beyond their regularly scheduled shifts, except in case of emergency.
Nurses can freely choose to work overtime. For those who choose to refuse overtime, their lawful decision cannot be construed as patient abandonment or neglect.
In Oregon, mandatory overtime is illegal. Employers in the state can’t require nurses to work more than 48 hours in one week, or longer than 12 consecutive hours in a day.
Hospitals can only require overtime for certain, generally unforeseeable emergency situations. Even in the event of an emergency, no nurse can work for more than 4 hours beyond their regularly-scheduled shift.
In Pennsylvania, mandatory overtime is illegal.
Nurses can’t be required to work over their predetermined shifts, except in the case of a catastrophic event declared as such by a federal, state or municipal authority, or unavoidable emergencies that make increased healthcare services necessary.
In Rhode Island, mandatory overtime is illegal. Employers are not allowed to require that nurses work longer than a predetermined shift, and no shifts can be longer than 12 hours.
Employers are expressly prohibited from using overtime to compensate for chronic understaffing.
In Texas, mandatory overtime is illegal. Nurses have every right to refuse overtime hours, and cannot be retaliated against for making that decision.
Note that Texas’ Health & Safety Code defines “overtime” as working beyond a scheduled amount of hours in a day, or days in a week, not a specific amount of hours.
In Washington, mandatory overtime is illegal, both in hospitals and nursing homes.
Nurses can’t be disciplined for refusing to work overtime under any circumstances.
In West Virginia, mandatory overtime is illegal. State law prohibits employers from punishing nurses who refuse overtime.
Nurses are not allowed to work more than 16 hours in a day, and shifts of 12 or more hours must be followed by 8 consecutive hours of rest.
Does On-Call Time Count Toward My Regular Shift?
Many of the state laws we covered say nurses can’t be required to work beyond “predetermined,” regularly-scheduled shifts. Some states set a limit to how long those shifts can be, usually 12 hours, but others left it to hospitals and nurses to work out the actual length of a shift.
But what about “on-call” time, when nurses have to be ready to spring into action, but aren’t necessarily contributing to their “hours worked”?
On-call time doesn’t count toward your hours, and overtime pay, until you’re called. After that, you’ve begun working and those hours should be counted as such. Most state laws, however, expressly prohibit placing nurses “on-call” as a last ditch attempt to cover an open shift.
When Is Mandatory Overtime Illegal For Other Workers?
Overtime only becomes illegal if your employer fails to pay you higher wages for those extra hours. That’s a wage and hour violation, a very real form of theft threatening the livelihoods of millions every year, and it may entitle workers to collect double the back wages they’ve earned.
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