The legality of required overtime in the health care industry

Medical professionals in Wisconsin and around the country understand that the nature of their work is somewhat unpredictable, and they appreciate that hospitals must be able to provide health care during emergencies and other unforeseen events. Vacations or sickness can sometimes leave medical facilities dangerously understaffed, and this may lead to employers asking or requiring nurses and doctors to work overtime.

Federal wage and hour laws do not prevent employers from requiring their employees to work mandatory overtime, and Wisconsin employment law only stipulates that most employees be paid time and one half after they have worked 40 hours in a week. Wisconsin also has a day of rest law that forbids employers from demanding their workers report for duty on seven consecutive days. However, many experts in the field strongly encourage employers to be judicious when mandating overtime as these demands may sour relations with medical professionals.

Some states have passed laws preventing health care workers from being required to work overtime. Lawmakers in these states were swayed by arguments that mandatory overtime negatively affected patient care. Courts have also been unsympathetic to employers who have fired doctors or nurses for refusing to work extra hours. A care worker was awarded $122,000 and given her job back after she was fired for refusing to work overtime in Pennsylvania.

Workers often worry that they will face retaliation or even dismissal if they file a complaint against their employers over matters such as discrimination, harassment or violations of wage and hour laws. An experienced employment law attorney could explain the protections workers enjoy under federal and state labor laws and the harsh penalties that employers may face for taking disciplinary action against workers who raise objections when the rights provided by these laws are violated.

Source: State of Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, Wisconsin Hours of Work and Overtime Law, accessed on Nov. 30, 2015

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