Can a Nurse Work More Than 16 Hours a Day?

Can a Nurse Work More Than 16 Hours a Day?

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Can a Nurse Work More Than 16 Hours a Day?

If you wonder whether a nurse can work more than 16 hours a day, the answer might shock you. An employer could potentially demand a nurse to work around the clock in some states, as no federal laws limit the number of hours a nurse can work in a day.

However, some states have enacted laws restricting a nurse’s work hours. In California, for example, nurses may only work 8 hours a day and 40 hours a week. Even in states without restrictions, hospitals or medical centers may prohibit nurses from working more than 16 continuous hours for safety reasons. However, it is essential to note that nurses could qualify for overtime pay if they work more than 40 hours per week.

If an unethical employer exploits you, you do not have to stand for it. Morgan & Morgan knows how some employers try to skirt laws or avoid paying hardworking nurses what they deserve. Our labor and employment lawyers could help you assert your rights and recover the wages that are rightfully yours. Contact us to find out more in a free and confidential consultation.

Is Mandatory Overtime for Nurses Legal?

According to the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences, the US is facing a critical shortage of nurses that is set to continue for several years. This, coupled with an aging population, is likely to result in employers demanding overtime work from nurses now and in the foreseeable future.

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) states that employers in most industries can require you to work overtime. However, numerous states have prohibited extended hours in healthcare or limited the employer’s power to require mandatory overtime.

Whether or not an employer can require a nurse to work more than 16 hours a day also depends on the work contract and other circumstances. An employer may not force a nurse to work overtime if:

The Work Contract’s Terms Do Not Allow Overtime

Only a minority of US employees have a written contract with their employer. However, for nurses, working on a contract basis can be common. Your work contract is a binding and legally enforceable agreement. Therefore, if your contract restricts overtime, your employer cannot legally force you to work more hours. An exception may be an extraordinary circumstance, such as a natural disaster.

Your State Prohibits Mandatory Overtime

In those states where mandatory overtime for nurses is prohibited, you can decline to work more than your normal hours unless an emergency or another extraordinary exception exists. States, where mandatory overtime for nurses is currently limited, illegal, or prohibited, include:

  • Alaska
  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Illinois
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • Texas
  • Washington State
  • West Virginia  

Your Options as a Nurse

Unfortunately, nurses in states without legislation prohibiting mandatory overtime can be forced to work overtime. However, it is critical to note that your employer must pay you adequately at a time and a half your hourly wage. If your employer fails to pay you higher wages for overtime, they are committing an illegal wage and hour law violation.  

Consider Changing Employer or Taking Legal Action

According to the American Nurses Association (ANA), nurses have a responsibility not to compromise patient safety and should either negotiate or reject any work assignments that do not allow them to rest and recover between shifts.

Moreover, the employer, such as a hospital or medical center, also has an ethical responsibility to ensure nurses get adequate rest and sleep to avoid putting patients in danger from overly fatigued nurses.

If you feel that your employer is working you to the bone and compromising patient safety, you may wish to look for other employment. Remember that if your employer fails to pay you the proper overtime rate, you could have legal recourse and collect damages, such as double the back wages.

Contact a Labor and Employment Attorney for Advice

Refusing to work overtime can be tricky and could lead to an employer terminating you. However, depending on your contract, state, and other circumstances, you could legally challenge an employer’s overtime requirement.

Employment laws can be complex and convoluted. If you need clarification about your rights as a nurse, consider speaking to our labor and employment lawyers.

The Potential Consequences of Nurses Working More Than 16 Hours a Day

Some nurses may welcome the opportunity to work overtime, whether to hone their skills or receive more pay. However, nursing is a demanding profession that requires a high level of physical, mental, and emotional endurance. While nurses are known for their compassionate care and tireless work, being constantly overworked and exhausted can significantly impact both the nurse and the patient.

Physical and Mental Exhaustion

For nurses, the physical and mental stress of long shifts and high patient loads can result in burnout and decreased job satisfaction. Overworking can lead to various physical consequences, such as:

  • Exhaustion
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle and joint pains
  • Back pain
  • Sleep deprivation

In addition, increased stress levels can also contribute to poor mental health and decreased well-being, resulting in depression, anxiety, and decreased immune function. The long-term consequences of forced overtime can make it more challenging for nurses to cope with the demands of their job and family life.

Mistakes in Medical Care

Exhausted nurses working over 16 hours a day are also more likely to make mistakes, which can have severe consequences for patients. In the medical field, precision and attention to detail are crucial. Extreme fatigue and tiredness can impair judgment, reaction time, and decision-making abilities, which can lead to:

  • Medication errors
  • Misdiagnoses
  • Treating the wrong patient
  • Surgery mistakes
  • Other types of medical mistakes

In extreme cases, such mistakes can result in permanent injury or death.

Decreased Quality of Care

The quality of care patients receive can also be impacted by nurse fatigue and exhaustion. Overworked nurses are less likely to provide the emotional support and compassion that patients need and may feel too exhausted to offer the same level of care they would if feeling well-rested. This can lead to decreased patient satisfaction and trust and even delay a patient’s recovery.

Adverse Effects on the Entire Healthcare System

Nurses being overworked and fatigued can negatively impact the healthcare system as a whole. When burnt out, nurses are more likely to take time off work or leave the profession altogether, resulting in decreased staffing levels and nurse shortages. Nurses leaving the profession in droves invariably impacts the quality of care and increases the workload of the remaining nurses.

Moreover, the costs associated with turnover can be significant for healthcare organizations. When nurses leave, hospitals and other healthcare organizations must recruit and train new staff, which is generally time-consuming and expensive.

What Is the Solution?

The solution to overworked nurses and nurse shortages could be to reduce the workload and stress that nurses experience. For example, hospitals and healthcare organizations can implement policies to promote better work-life balance, such as flexible scheduling, paid time off, and staff support programs. Such programs not only help to retain experienced nurses but can also make the profession more attractive to jobseekers.

Morgan & Morgan Can Help Nurses Assert Their Rights

While we cannot change state laws, we could help nurses working more than 16 hours a day get what they deserve if an employer skirts state or federal labor laws or is underpaying them. We want nurses to be treated fairly and receive the overtime pay to which they are entitled. Our experienced labor and employment attorneys could help you in several ways, such as:

  • Assess your current employment circumstances and identify your legal rights
  • Explain how the labor laws and regulations in your state relate to your situation
  • Help you receive fair overtime pay and back-pay damages
  • Hold your employer accountable for violating wage and hour laws
  • File a legal claim against your employer
  • Negotiate a fair settlement on your behalf
  • Fight powerfully for what you deserve at trial

If an employer is currently forcing you to work excessively long hours, putting your own health and the health of patients at risk, you should seek legal advice. Morgan & Morgan is here for you 24/7. Our seasoned attorneys have handled countless employment-related claims, recovering compensation for hardworking employees. We could help you too.

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Get answers to commonly asked questions about our legal services and learn how we may assist you with your case.

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  • Can I Refuse to Work More Than 16 Hours a Day?

    If your state does not have any laws restricting the amount of overtime nurses can work, you may not be able to refuse your employer’s request. However, you could deny overtime in some limited circumstances, such as:  

    • Your employer fails to pay you the correct rate for overtime hours
    • Working more than 16 hours breaches the terms of your employment contract
    • You have a family emergency or illness
    • Working more than 16 hours a day would create a health or safety hazard

    If any of these circumstances apply, you may be able to refuse overtime. However, as the details depend on your state and your employment situation, speak to an attorney to clarify your rights.

  • Does On-Call Time Count as Work Time?

    On-call time generally does not count toward your work time or shift hours until you are called to work and the clock starts ticking. However, many states do not allow employers to place nurses on call to cover an open shift.

  • I Am a Nurse Working More Than 16 Hours a Day; Am I Entitled to Overtime Pay?

    Generally, nurses who are paid on an hourly basis and not classified as exempt are entitled to overtime pay at time and a half, as per the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). However, there can be some exceptions for healthcare workers when state laws diverge from federal laws. Therefore, to understand what you are entitled to, consider consulting our labor and employment lawyers, who can help you understand your rights.

  • My Employer Terminated Me Immediately for Refusing Overtime; Is This Legal?

    Regrettably, in states without laws prohibiting mandatory overtime for nurses, your employer could legally fire you if you refuse to work extra hours. However, whether an immediate termination is legal will depend on your contract with your employer. If you are fired without notice, and your contract stipulates a notice period, your employer could be in hot water, and you could be entitled to compensation, such as back pay.

    Our attorneys can help you understand your rights in a free, no-obligation consultation and move forward with a legal claim on your behalf.

  • Am I Entitled to Compensation for Missed Overtime Pay?

    If you are experiencing wage theft, you could hold your employer accountable and receive damages such as back pay, interest, and others. Moreover, in particularly egregious cases, a court may penalize your employer by awarding punitive damages, which you could receive in addition to compensation. Morgan & Morgan’s labor and employment lawyers can determine whether your employer illegally failed to pay you for overtime.

  • Morgan & Morgan Has Nurses’ Back

    While a nurse can work more than 16 hours a day legally in some states, exhaustion and fatigue could have severe consequences for both nurses and patients. Moreover, some employers requiring nurses to work extra hours fail to pay them the correct overtime pay.

    We think the exploitation of hardworking nurses is outrageous. However, if your employer is breaking the law, you could have a legal case and recover damages, depending on your specific situation. Moreover, you are legally protected from retaliation by your employer.

    Morgan & Morgan is here for you. Let our dedicated labor and employment lawyers help you understand your rights and fight for what you deserve. You pay nothing unless and until we recover damages for you. Contact us now to schedule a free case review.

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