Working the Clock
Overtime violations impact health workers and patient care.
SIX YEARS AGO, the Washington State Nurses Association brought legal action on behalf of the 1,200 registered nurses at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane to recover unpaid wages for denied rest periods. Late last year, the Washington State Supreme Court unanimously upheld nurses' statutory right to be paid overtime when their duties prevent them from taking a rest period.
The ruling was a victory for nurses, but it may have been an even bigger victory for their patients. The nurses association had been working for several years to ensure that nurses receive full, uninterrupted breaks because that dedicated time to rest can play a crucial role in preventing fatigue and fatigue-related errors. The decision provides a powerful incentive for hospitals to adequately staff for rest breaks.
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires employees to be paid overtime for every hour they put in beyond 40 in a workweek. But in hospitals and other facilities across the country, healthcare workers increasingly burdened by heavier workloads and fewer staff are compelled to do some of their work off the clock.
Perhaps hospitals will begin to see the wisdom of allowing their employees to work a standard shift or to request overtime when they work more than 40 hours, and to take their breaks. Hospitals nationwide have paid millions in back wages to settle claims by employees who were denied breaks or overtime pay.
Highlights from this Issue