Are You Being Paid for All the Time You Work?

The U.S. Department of Labor has found that hospitals, nursing homes, and healthcare agencies frequently fail to pay nurses and other healthcare workers for all the hours they work.
In general, “hours worked” includes all the time you must be on duty, including time spent before or after your regular shift.  It also includes breaks of 20 minutes or less.  If you have to stay after your shift to give a report to the nurse on the next shift, or if your meal breaks are interrupted, then you must be paid for your time.
It may not seem important, but just 10 to 15 minutes per day can add up to 40 or more hours per year.  That is a full week or more of compensation that your employer may be stealing from you.

Here are the top five ways employers cheat nurses, physical therapists, home health aides, and other healthcare workers out of their wages.

1. Interrupting Meal Breaks

One of the most common violations of the wage and hour laws happens when a hospital or nursing home automatically deducts for meal breaks, even when you were not able to take the full break.
Meal breaks that last 30 minutes or more are not work time, and an employer does not have to pay for them.  The break, however, must be completely uninterrupted.  If you have to answer calls, keep an eye on things, or respond to work-related questions during your meal break, then your meal break may not be deducted from the number of hours you worked.
You also must be paid for rest breaks that last 20 minutes or less.  It does not matter whether you use this time to drink coffee, go to the rest room, or make a personal phone call.  If the rest break lasts less than 20 minutes, you must be paid for that time.
If your employer is deducting for breaks when you cannot take the full break or are interrupted while eating, then you may have a significant claim for damages.  You may recover two times the amount of compensation you are owed.

2. Failing to Pay for Work Done Before or After Your Regular Shift

Every nurse I have ever met (including my wife) has worked before or after her scheduled shift, and they have often done so without being paid for the extra time.  For example, many nurses stay an extra 10 or 15 minutes after their shift ends because their replacement has not yet arrived or because they have to give a report.  You must be paid for that extra time.
Some nurses, physical therapists, and other healthcare employees do other types of work before or after their shift.  When things are busy, it is not unusual to stay late to finish patient charts.  We have also represented physical therapists who had to work on their treatment notes at home because there wasn’t enough time to complete them during the work day.  You must be paid for that extra time as well, even if you are doing it at home.

3. Rounding Down the Number of Hours You Worked

A hospital or nursing home is allowed to track the number of hours you work in 15-minute increments.  If you work for 7 minutes or less, your time may be rounded down and not counted as hours worked.  But if you work between 8 and 14 minutes, your time must be rounded up and counted as 15 minutes of work time.
For example, if you work for 22 minutes (15 minutes plus another 7 minutes), then your employer only has to pay you for 15 minutes.  But if you work for 23 minutes (15 minutes plus another 8 minutes), then your employer must pay you for half an hour.  
Your employer is violating your rights, and cheating you out of your wages, if they always round down and never round up. 

4. Failing to Pay for Training Programs, Seminars, or Meetings

Many hospitals, nursing homes, and healthcare agencies claim that they can pay you at a reduced rate, or not pay you at all, for training programs, seminars, or organizational meetings.  Nonsense.  If you are required to attend training programs, seminars, or meetings, then you must be paid your regular compensation rate for your time.  You are also entitled to overtime pay at one and one-half times your regular rate if you end up working more than 40 hours in a workweek.
Your employer may avoid paying for your time only if all of the following criteria are met:
  • Attendance is outside of your regular working hours;
  • Attendance is completely voluntary;
  • The training, seminar, or meeting is not directly related to your job; and
  • You do not perform any productive work during the event.

5. Failing to Pay Overtime Rates

If you are paid by the hour, then you must be paid one and one-half times your regular rate of pay when you work more than 40 hours during a workweek.
Many hospitals, nursing homes, and healthcare agencies try to avoid paying overtime by not recording all of your hours, by deducting time for breaks that you never actually took, or by asking you to work “off-the-clock.”  These are all illegal practices that cheat you out of your wages.
Some hospitals and nursing homes may qualify for an “80 and 8” rule.  Under this rule, your right to overtime is based on working 80 hours during a two-week period.  For example, if your employer qualifies for the 80 and 8 rule, and you work 35 hours during week one and 45 hours during week two, then you are not entitled to overtime pay because you worked 80 hours during a two-week period.
The 80 and 8 rule only applies if there is a prior agreement with your hospital or nursing home.  It also requires that you be paid at your overtime rate when you work more than 8 hours in a single day.

Are You Unsure About Your Compensation Rights?

The wage and hour laws can be very confusing, especially for nurses, physical therapists, and other healthcare workers.  If you believe that your employer may not be paying you everything you have earned, you should consult with an experienced employment attorney to understand your rights.  You may have a claim for substantial damages.

Call us at (212) 601-2728 or complete ther contact form on this page to schedule a free and confidential consultation.

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