Are Nurses Exempt from Overtime in California?

Nurses have one of the toughest jobs on the planet. These frontline workers routinely put themselves in harm’s way in order to serve the community. The job is exhausting and stressful, yet for many, extremely rewarding. That is, as long as the hospital they work at treats them fairly when it comes to the issues of wages and hours.

Many California workers fall under the Fair Labor Standards Act, a law that dates back to the 1930s. It codified the forty-hour workweek and eight-hour workday, set a minimum wage, and regulated working conditions for minors. 

California also has its own standards for labor practices, what constitutes overtime, and who can work what types of jobs. According to these regulations, how nurses are scheduled and how much they can work in a shift or week before they start earning time and a half for overtime are a little different than for the average worker.

Nursing and the Alternative Work Week

Because hospitals are not your average workplace and require round-the-clock staffing, California law permits healthcare facilities to adopt “alternative workweeks” if the employees agree to do so. The procedure for adopting an alternative workweek is actually quite strict and requires employees to be allowed to vote on the issue.

If the employees do agree to adopt an alternative workweek, the rules for overtime are changed. For example, if a hospital and its employees have an alternative workweek in place:

  • A nurse can work up to 10 hours in a shift without being eligible for overtime pay
  • If a nurse works more than 10 hours in a 24-hour period, the additional hours are paid at time and a half
  • Unless the nurse works over 12 hours in a 24-hour period in which case hours over 12 are paid at double the normal rate

The alternative workweek does have at least one similarity to the Fair Labor Standards Act in that the 40-hour workweek standard is intact. This means that if a nurse works more than 40 hours in a week, the hours above 40 are paid at the overtime rate.

Nurses Usually Can’t Be Required to Work Overtime – But There is an Exception

Generally speaking, a nurse cannot be required to work overtime under California law. Nor can an employer punish a nurse for refusing to take overtime hours. There is, however, an exception to this rule.

In emergency situations, such as in the wake of a natural disaster or other declared emergency, a hospital can require a nurse to work overtime. However, even this requirement comes with limits as no nurse can be forced to work more than 72 hours in a given week. 

Of course, all overtime worked during an emergency is paid at time-and-a-half or double the nurse’s typical rate, depending on whether the nurse in question worked more than 10 hours or more than 12 hours in a shift. 

Contact an Employment Lawyer For Help

Many nurses and other health care professionals are not represented by unions. It is up to each individual nurse to stand up for themselves when they have a wage or overtime dispute. This, however, can be intimidating. 

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be. You don’t have to pursue a labor dispute against your employer on your own. Instead, contact a skilled California employment lawyer who can fight on your behalf to make sure you are being treated fairly in the workplace. 

A good employment lawyer will know the minute details of California labor law and be able to determine the best course of action in your case. With the help of a lawyer, you can solve your workplace problems and put them behind you once and for all.