Overtime: When Nurses Are Commonly Underpaid

The past month has been incredibly busy on your floor. Between blood draws, intubations, skin biopsies, and discharges, you barely had time to use the restroom—let alone eat lunch, or take your breaks. However, you lived through it, your patients were all well cared for, and the missed lunches and breaks should give you some extra money in overtime.

This week’s check should be the first to have the overtime, and it should have already been deposited into your account. So, you excitedly check your statement to see how much extra money you now have to play with. You’re at a complete loss for words. Not only is the check less than you hoped, but it didn’t include any overtime whatsoever. How can that be? You should have at least four hours of time and a half, but instead—you have zero.

Does working through your lunch and breaks not count toward overtime? 

Common Overtime Tasks That Are Overlooked for OT Pay

Overtime (OT) is defined by the United Stated Department of Labor as any time worked past 40 hours within one week. Therefore, if you’re scheduled and work eight hours a day, five days a week—not including the lunch periods in which you clock out—any additional time spent completing tasks, or participating in work-related activities, should be considered overtime.

Unfortunately for many nurses, OT isn’t recognized as often as it should be within their pay. These inaccuracies can be attributed to many different factors, but they generally occur in relation to one of these five commonly under or unpaid tasks:

  • Work lunches and breaks. When working an eight-hour shift, nurses are entitled to a 30 minute unpaid lunch, and two 10-minute breaks. However, within the medical field, it is a common occurrence for emergencies and unforeseen situations to pop up without notice, keeping nurses from having the time to take their breaks. This means that if you work through your lunch, you’ll essentially be working eight and a half hours, in which 30 minutes of that should be considered overtime. Unfortunately, some employers disregard that 30 minutes and assume that you took your break anyway—completely disregarding the potential overtime.
  • Home tasks. Many nurses—especially clinical staff—take work home with them to study, re-work, organize or create schedules. However, since they’re not “clocked-in,” even though they’re working, they’re not getting paid the rightful overtime in which they’re due.
  • Overnight nurses. Working overnights or what is affectionately known as the “graveyard shift,” can be truly grueling at times, which is why most hospitals will provide an additional overnight premium. However, since the graveyard shifts are inherently less preferable, understaffing can be a problem. This means that overnight nurses must do more work in the same amount of time. Depending on the workload, sometimes this works out fine, while other times, the overnight nurses must stay well beyond their scheduled times in order to finish up their duties. Unfortunately, this extra time is ignored or misplaced when it comes to OT pay, since the work could have been finished if there were more staff.
  • Charting. The majority of nurses leave charting for the end of their shifts, just in case their patients require something before they leave. Unfortunately, this means that many nurses are charting once they’ve clocked-out of their shifts, and are therefore, charting for free instead of getting the OT they deserve.
  • Meetings. Since nursing shifts are staggered throughout the day, and patients need continuous care, it can be difficult to schedule staff meetings. Therefore, when a meeting is scheduled, most likely unscheduled nurses will either have to come in early before their shifts, stay late after their shifts, or drive in specifically for the meeting. Since the meeting is work related, is using time outside their scheduled work hours, and causes them inconvenience, these nurses deserve the OT. Unfortunately, unless specifically put in for—this OT is often overlooked.

Getting Paid for Everything You Do

You shouldn’t have to be forced to fight for your rightful pay. When you take the extra effort and time to care for your patients, create an efficient workplace, or attend meetings on your days off, you deserve to get paid.

If you believe that your pay checks are consistently lacking your overtime pay, or your employer is refusing to recognize your overtime work, contact us immediately. We’ll help you understand your OT rights, give you the peace of mind you need, and the pay you deserve. Call now!

Know someone who is having a rough time receiving her overtime pay, and doesn’t know what to do about it? Please, feel free to share this page with her via email, Facebook or Twitter, and recommend it to your friends on Google Plus. No one should have to be forced to work for free—let us help.