If I refuse to work overtime, can the hospital I work for fire me?

Seven more minutes. Seven more minutes and you get to go home. Today has been absolutely grueling. From the moment you stepped foot on the floor you’ve been running around like a chicken with its head cut off. You’ve performed six skin biopsies, taken over 20 vitals, started a dozen IVs, and discharged close to 30 patients. You were able to grab a few bites of your sandwich in between blood draws, but you’ve been running at full speed for the last eight hours.Five more minutes.

You finish writing up your reports and double checking clinical sheets—making sure everything is done.

Three minutes.

You sign your reports and make sure you pop in to say goodnight to all of your patients.

One minute.

You make your way down the hall to the staff locker room, when your boss stops you. She tells you that the night shift is understaffed and that she would appreciate it if you could stay for another four hours. You tell her that you’re absolutely exhausted and that you would prefer to go home and get some rest before your next shift. She responds by telling you that if she has to she’ll mandate the shift. However, if you volunteer now then she’ll remember the gesture, but if you refuse, she’ll remember that as well—especially during reviews.

What are you supposed to do? You can barely see straight but your boss is basically threatening you if you don’t stay. Do you have to work mandatory overtime (OT)? What will happen if you refuse?

Consequences of Refusing Overtime

On a daily basis, nurses are asked if they would like to stay beyond their eight-hour shifts, or willingly volunteer to stay over for overtime. Depending on their employer’s discretion, they are either granted OT hours or not, but either way it is up to the nurse decide whether or not she wishes to work. Occasionally, emergency situations arise where units are understaffed, the workload is underestimated, or patients arrive late, requiring employees to stay to accommodate the workload. However, these situations are still volunteer-based and no matter what your employer tells you, they aren’t considered mandatory.

The Safe Hospitals Staffing Law, which prohibits hospitals from requiring nurses to work overtime, went into effect on September 1, 2009. Therefore, with the exception of working during extreme cases such as natural disasters and outbreaks—mandating, threatening, or pressuring you into working overtime is illegal. The law also states that:

  • Hospitals may no longer require registered nurses (RNs) and licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) to work mandatory overtime. This doesn’t include home healthcare or nursing home nurses.
  • Nurses are authorized to refuse to work mandatory overtime.
  • Hospitals are prohibited from using on-call time as a substitute for mandatory overtime. 
  • Allows nurses to have the option of volunteering to work overtime

Stopping OT Persecution

Although it is illegal for your employer to require you to work past your shift, some employers may try to intimidate you into volunteering by threatening job, shifts, workload, and even your promotional aspirations. Not only is this illegal, but it is truly bad form. If you believe that your employer has threatened or forced you to work overtime, or has punished you for refusing to work OT, contact us today.

Our vast experience and knowledge with overtime law can help you fight back and get the justice, compensation, and respect you deserve. Call now!

Need more information about your OT rights? Request our free book, 10 Biggest Mistakes that can Hurt Your Wage and Overtime Claim, or feel free to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, or Google Plus for periodic updates and advice.


Galvin B. Kennedy
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Galvin Kennedy is a founding partner of Kennedy Hodges. He focuses his practice to overtime and wage claims.