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Do I have any recourse if I and other nurses are told to go home early every day but our nurse manager gets OT every pay period?

Monday September 16, 2013
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Dear Nancy,

We as RNs are told every day to go home early. But the nurse manager happens to get at least 20 hours of OT each pay period. Human resources told me about two years ago to basically mind my own business. Do I have any recourse? We are told that sending nurses home early is done to save the hospital money, but it seems as if our department is the main area being told to do so. What can we do to at least get our hours in on a daily basis? I have asked to work in other departments where I have skills, but my supervisor never calls to see if those departments need help.

Joe



Dear Nancy replies:

Dear Joe,

The hospital's attempt to save money by sending RNs home early may backfire at some point in the future. It is short-sighted to think that sending staff nurses home will save the hospital money if patient care is compromised and results in a lawsuit or if a patient is injured or dies and that injury or death is a direct result of inadequate staffing.

It is interesting that the nurse manager is able to chalk up 20 hours of overtime per week, but it is true that she has additional responsibilities over and above a staff nurse. However, it is also interesting that she is not considered an exempt employee, one who does not have to be paid overtime based on Fair Labor Standard Acts prerequisites. The comment that you should "mind your own business" about that issue raises a question about the practice, as least insofar as the nurse manager goes.

Although a staff nurse is never guaranteed a certain number of hours of work or that they will only work on a specific unit or specific shift, without an express contract of employment or without being a member of a union, the practice you describe may need to be evaluated. It may be, for example, that staff nurses are asked to leave early in order to avoid paying them "regular" wages and any overtime that might be due them.

You can do a little research on your own by contacting your state's wage and hour department online and determining facts about such issues as when an employer can ask workers to leave early, who is an exempt and non-exempt employee and what the state’s requirements are for overtime pay.

If you do this research and think the facility is not handling payment issues properly, a consultation with a nurse attorney or attorney in your state would be helpful. If nothing else, you and your colleagues may be able to initiate a review of the facility's practices by the state’s wage and hour department. If it is found that things are not being done properly, the employer will need to do so, including paying wages that were improperly withheld by asking workers to go home early, and if the nurse manager's overtime pay is not consistent with state and federal law, that practice will no longer be allowed.


Cordially,
Nancy




Nancy J. Brent, RN, MS, JD, is an attorney in private practice in Wilmette, Ill. This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as legal or any other advice. The reader is encouraged to seek the advice of an attorney or other professional when an opinion is needed.