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Nurses Win Long Battle Over Nurses' Overtime For Missed Breaks

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Olympia, WAWhile front-line service workers are often represented by unions and therefore can take advantage of various perks and workplace advantages entrenched in a contract to uphold safety on the job, circumstances may not permit a scheduled lunch break, or rest period. There is no more a truism here, than with the nursing profession, when the needs of a patient or a medical emergency do not wait until the end of a coffee break. The issue: when a rest period is missed to which the nurse is entitled, should that individual be paid nurse's overtime?

Such is the case with some 1,200 nurses who work, or have worked at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Centre in Spokane, Washington. In a case that stems from the mid-1990s, nurses will be paid overtime wages heretofore denied them after working through rest breaks when necessary.

According to the Spokesman Review (10/26/12), affected nurses originally filed a grievance with the hospital through their union after members of the bargaining unit discovered there was no additional pay in their packets for having worked through a rest period as necessary.

Following an arbitrator's ruling that found in favor of the union, nurses began receiving 8.5 hours worth of pay for a standard eight-hour day that included two, missed 15-minute rest periods.

However, the hospital was paying straight time. The union countered that in so doing the hospital was in violation of state laws governing nurse's overtime, stating that the hospital correctly should have been paying the nurses for missed rest breaks at their overtime rate, rather than straight time.

The initial trial court found for the union, but the hospital won its appeal based on a 2-1 split of the presiding judges.

The union appealed the latter ruling all the way to the state Supreme Court, which put the onus back on the hospital to pay nurses at their overtime rate for any missed rest breaks due to the needs of the hospital, doctors, nurses or the demands of the work flow in general. Nurses will be also be getting back about $52,000 in back wages and interest.

The Washington Supreme Court, however, did not agree that the hospital's neglect in not paying the nurses at their overtime rate for missed rest periods combined to a "willful violation" of labor law—a finding that would have doubled the $52,000 penalty for the hospital. The lower court, it was reported, imposed the penalty but the Supreme Court rejected the finding.

"Nurses are entitled to overtime compensation because they provided additional labor to Sacred Heart," the Supreme Court ruled. The defendant was also directed to pay about $200,000 in legal fees incurred in litigating the nurses overtime lawsuit.

READ ABOUT NURSES OVERTIME LAWSUITS

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READER COMMENTS

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I work in New York. I'm an RN & work 29hrs considered part time & I work in Pediatricians office I am a salaried worker & am exempt Can I be made to work extra hours & not get paid & this will include Saturdays? Please send answer Thank you

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