Certified Nursing Assistants Overtime: A CNA’s Guide To Unpaid Wages

Certified nursing assistants play one of the most valuable roles in health care. But hospitals and nursing homes across the US are stealing millions from CNAs – and it may be happening to you.

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Whether they’re taking vital signs or tending to a patient’s basic hygiene needs, certified nursing assistants serve as the backbone of any well-run health care program. In many ways, CNAs perform the work that matters most to patients; they put the “care” in “health care.”

But who cares for the workers? While the federal Fair Labor Standards Act mandates overtime wages for most American workers, thousands of CNAs are being cheated out of their hard-won earnings by their employers.

Are CNAs Entitled To Overtime Wages?


Regardless of their experience or training, certified nursing assistants are entitled to overtime pay. Even CNAs who work in private homes, and used to be exempt from overtime, are probably entitled to it now.

So how much do you deserve? That depends on how much you’re already making. Your overtime wage is based on your “regular rate”: your base hourly wage plus any bonuses you may have made during the week in question. If you only make an hourly wage, take that rate and multiply it by one-and-a-half. That’s your overtime rate.

Overtime must be paid for all hours worked over 40 in one workweek. Some states have more “generous” laws in place. For example, California requires that CNAs get paid overtime for any hours worked over 8 in a day. To learn if you live in a state with its own specific overtime laws, click here.

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Where Do CNAs Work?

Certified nursing assistants can be found putting in long hours in almost every health-related workplace across the nation. Most CNAs begin their careers at skilled nursing facilities, according to CNA Thrive. For many, that’s a springboard into being a home health aide or working in a hospital. Assisted living facilites and nursing homes are also an option, especially since nursing homes are required by federal law to hire CNAs. No other health care employer is.

But throughout these changing workplaces, one thing remains true: wage violations are rampant. No workers are more vulnerable to wage theft than those in the health care industry.

Top 3 Most Common Wage Violations In Health Care

Making ends meet on a CNA’s salary is hard enough, and many nursing assistants assume they’ll be able to pick up some of the slack by taking overtime shifts. When you’re properly compensated for that extra time, overtime can be great. But few CNAs are making everything they’ve earned.

How many workers are being cheated is unclear; the statistics are spotty and vary widely by location and place of work. But recent studies indicate that the vast majority of home health aides, many of them nursing assistants working for agencies, are the victims of overtime violations. In Pennsylvania, an estimated 83% of home health care workers weren’t paid the overtime they earned in 2015. The problem may be just as widespread in your own state.

Here are three ways health care employers are stealing out of nurses’ pockets – and may be stealing out of your own:

1. Expecting CNAs To Work Through Breaks Without Pay

At number 1 in our list, and by far the most common illegal labor practice affecting nurses of any type, is allowing nurses to attend to patient needs during their breaks – but failing to compensate them for that time.

Many hospitals and nursing homes automatically subtract a predetermined break period from nurses’ time sheets. That’s fine, and totally legal, as long as you don’t actually work during your break. But if you have to jump up from lunch to take care of a patient, or address an emergency, you’ve started working again. That time counts toward your wages and overtime.

And it’s not your responsibility to tell your employer that you’re working; it’s their duty to make sure you’re not.

2. Allowing Nursing Assistants To Work Before Or After A Shift For Free

Any time you perform work that could benefit your employer counts toward your hours and overtime wages.

While most of us work a predetermined shift, we also have preliminary tasks to perform, things that need to get done before the shift starts. Same goes for tasks performed after your shift is over; if your employer can expect to benefit from that work, you need to be paid for it.

3. Failing To Keep Up With Changes In The Law

Bathing, dressing and feeding; many of a CNA’s traditional tasks were once considered “companionship services.” Before January 1, 2015, workers who performed companionship services in private homes were exempt from the FLSA’s wage protections. They weren’t entitled to overtime. But that’s all changed.

Every CNA employed by a third-party company, like home health aide agencies, is now entitled to overtime pay.

According to the Labor Department’s Laura Fortman, “workers providing this critical work should be receiving the same basic protection and coverage as the vast majority of American workers.” We couldn’t agree more.

It’s far from clear, however, that all employers have come into compliance with the federal government’s new guidelines. Many CNAs may still be losing out on their wages.

Wage Advocates
Reviewed by Raul R., on .
Thank you! It was such a relief to know that Wage Advocates were working hard to get me compensation for my unpaid overtime."
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