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Understanding Your Overtime Rights as a California Nurse

Nurse works overtime

California law protects workers across all industries. Whether you are in retail, law, or medicine, if you are a nonexempt employee, you are guaranteed certain rights. These rights include minimum wage, overtime, meal and rest breaks, and others. In certain professions, such as nursing, it’s become common practice to push employees to their limits. It’s important for California nurses to remember, however, that California law protects them, too, and when hospitals and medical offices violate those rights, they can be held liable. Read on to learn about overtime rights as a nurse in California. If you’re a nurse in California or an employee in another industry and you believe your overtime rights have been violated, call a seasoned Orange County labor law attorney for trusted advice and representation.

Most Nurses Are Guaranteed Overtime Pay

California’s overtime laws apply to all employees unless they fall within an exempt category. There is an exemption for certain healthcare employees and other professionals. However, California’s overtime law explicitly states that it applies to nurses.

There are limited exceptions for certain types of advanced practice nurses. Specifically, certified midwives, certified nurse anesthetists, and certified nurse practitioners are not entitled to overtime.

Overtime Rule and the Alternative Workweek for Nurses

The typical nonexempt employee is guaranteed overtime pay for any hours worked past eight in a given workday as well as any hours worked past 40 in a given workweek. Overtime is paid at 1.5 times the worker’s hourly rate (i.e., “time-and-a-half”). If the employee works more than 12 hours in a given workday, any additional hours must be paid at double their normal hourly wage.

Additionally, employees are guaranteed a 30-minute unpaid meal break every five hours and a 10-minute paid rest break every four hours, with limited exceptions for shortened shifts. Employees and employers can agree to on-duty meal breaks when the nature of the work is such that the employee cannot be reasonably relieved of their duties during the break (such as a lone security guard on a late-night shift).

Nurses and their employers can agree to an alternative workweek under which the nurse will work up to 12 hours in a given shift without triggering overtime pay. An alternative workweek can only be implemented if an election is conducted by secret ballot allowing the nurses to vote on whether to implement the alternative schedule. Additionally, to be valid, the schedule must be fixed and regular, and the employer must register the workweek with the California Division of Labor Statistics and Research. If the workweek is not registered with the state, it is not valid.

Regardless of whether it’s a typical workweek or an alternative workweek schedule, employers must pay nurses overtime for any hours worked beyond 40 in a given workweek. Any hours worked past 12 in a given day must still be paid at double the hourly rate.

No Mandatory Overtime Outside of Emergencies

Hospitals and medical offices may try to require nurses to work overtime instead of properly staffing the hospital. California law prohibits mandatory overtime for nurses except in “emergency situations” (such as a natural disaster). Outside of emergencies, nurses must be given the opportunity to volunteer for or against taking overtime, and they cannot be punished for refusing overtime. Moreover, even if there’s an emergency, nurses cannot be forced to work over 72 hours in a given week.

If you are an employee with overtime or other employee rights concerns in Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, or San Diego counties, or a California employer dealing with employee rights allegations, wage & hour issues, employee contract disputes, or other employment law issues, contact a skilled and effective California employment law attorney at Coast Employment Law at 714-551-9930 for a free consultation.

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