What Every California Nurse Should Know About Overtime

We rely on nurses to provide frontline care for patients. In many cases, nurses provide the majority of care for patients in emergency rooms, hospitals, and other medical facilities. Nurses are dedicated medical professionals who often work long hours under intense pressure and stress.

Nurses deserve to be compensated fairly for their work, including overtime. However, overtime for nurses is treated differently from overtime for other employees.

What Are California’s Overtime Laws?

Many employees in California are subject to the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. California also has specific state laws governing overtime for California workers. 

Generally, workers in California are entitled to overtime pay if they work more than eight hours in any workday. They receive one and one-half times their regular wages for overtime hours up to 12 hours in a workday. The overtime pay increases to 2x the regular wages for more than 12 hours in any workday. 

However, there are exemptions to the general overtime rules. Additionally, several exceptions exist to the overtime laws. An exception means that a specific classification of employees receives overtime wages based on different rules.

Nurses fall into the category of exceptions to the general overtime laws for California workers. Specific standards dictate what situations constitute overtime for nurses. Nurses should know these rules to ensure they receive the overtime wages they are entitled to receive under California wage and hour laws.

Approving Alternative Workweeks for Nurses in California 

Hospitals and other medical facilities do not keep ordinary business hours. In many instances, they are open 24 hours a day each day of the year. Therefore, nurses may be required to work longer shifts as part of their standard job requirements. For that reason, state law permits healthcare facilities to adopt an alternative workweek. 

An alternative workweek schedule is any regularly scheduled workweek that requires an employee to work more than eight hours during a 24-hour period. California statutes set strict rules for establishing an alternative workweek.

First, the employees must agree to the alternative workweek. Likewise, there are procedures that the employer must follow to adopt the workweek. 

For example, employees must receive written explanations describing the proposed changes to a workweek. Then, employees vote by secret ballot on the proposed changes to a standard workweek. Two-thirds of the affected employees must approve the alternative workweek schedule for the employer to adopt an alternative employee workweek.

What Are the Overtime Rules for an Alternative Workweek for Nurses?

If a medical facility has an alternative workweek in place, the overtime rules for nurses change. In an alternative workweek, nurses are entitled to overtime as follows:

  • Nurses can work up to ten hours during a shift without being entitled to overtime pay
  • The overtime pay for any hours worked over ten hours in a 24-hour period is one and one-half of the nurse’s regular hourly wage
  • The overtime pay for working more than 12 hours during a 24-hour period is double the regular hourly wages for each hour worked over 12 hours

As you can see, nurses must work more hours during a 24-hour period to receive overtime pay. However, the overall workweek overtime requirement are the same for nurses as regular employees. If a nurse works more than 40 hours during the workweek, the nurse is entitled to overtime wages for every hour worked over 40 hours. 

Can a Nurse Be Forced to Work Overtime in California?

Generally, an employer cannot force a nurse to work overtime or punish a nurse for refusing overtime work. However, emergencies are an exception to that rule.

Hospitals can require nurses to work up to 72 hours a week in emergencies, such as a natural disaster, terrorist attack, or other declared emergency. During the emergency, overtime wages must be paid according to the same overtime rules discussed above.

What Can Nurses Do if They Are Not Receiving Overtime Pay?

There are several legal remedies for holding an employer liable for unpaid overtime wages. 

A nurse may file a wage claim with the California Division of Labor Standards. If an employer refuses to pay earned overtime wages, the nurse might consider filing a lawsuit to recover lost wages. If you are no longer working for the employer, you may also have a claim for the waiting time penalty.

You can also seek advice from employment lawyers. They will explain your legal rights and evaluates your situation to determine your options for recovering unpaid overtime wages. 

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