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Is it legal for a supervisor to increase the hours an RN has to work if that RN was hired to work a shorter number of hours of work per week?

Monday April 28, 2014
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Question:

Dear Nancy,

My boss increased my hours from 32 hours per week to 40 hours per week a few weeks after I commented on things in a staff meeting that obviously caught her off guard. I fought the change and got the new schedule start-date extended. In January, the new schedule went into effect. The boss did not mandate the new hours because business was slow, so I only worked a few weeks at the 40 hour per week.

When it was time for school to start I asked the boss about the hours again because it would cause a hardship for my family, but she said I had to work the 40 hours. I quit my job but am still upset that a company can do that to a person. I had been hired for 32-hours-per week. I worked that schedule for five years. I'm blessed that I can quit my job to be home for the children but there are other people who can't and I think this boss and the company should not have the power to do this. Is this legal?

Brooke



Dear Nancy replies:

Dear Brooke,

You did not mention if you had a contract of employment to work the 32 hours per week schedule and for how long that agreement would be in place. Since contracts of employment are rare (unless one is in an executive or administrative position, such as the CNO), it is assumed you did not have a contract that guaranteed you these hours during the length of your employment at the facility.

Since there was no contract for guaranteed hours/week, you are considered an employee at-will, which generally means that there are no promises about the position you hold, where you work and what hours you work. The employer is able to change your work conditions at-will. Likewise, you, as the employee, have the right to leave your position at will.

Ifyou think this basic no-contract/no guarantee relationship was altered in some way (e.g., the employer promised you an increase in hourly pay if you would work a 40 hour/week and you accepted, thus creating a new at-will arrangement), or you were a member of a union in which the bargaining agreement regulates hours of work/week and this was breached, you should consult with a nurse attorney or other attorney in your state to determine how you may be able to challenge your decision to quit and also to challenge a similar situation in the future.

For future positions, the attorney may suggest, for example, that you bring up the number of hours you will be asked to work in a new position and ask that the agreement be put in writing and be designated for a period of time (e.g., 1 year). It would be unusual for an employer to enter into such an agreement with one employee, but it might well be worth a try.

Regards,
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.