Hospital workers in California may have special overtime rules. Many of them are classified as exempt workers who cannot earn overtime pay. Other workers are non-exempt, but frequently adopt alternative workweek schedules that let them work more hours in a workday without earning overtime pay. If they work over 40 total hours in a week, though, they are owed overtime pay.
Which hospital workers are exempt and which are non-exempt?
An employee is classified as an exempt worker if there is an exemption for their job from certain California labor laws.
In the healthcare field, the following types of jobs are considered exempt:
- white-collar jobs, like executive, administrative, or professional employees,
- computer professionals,
- public employees, and
- employees in the University of California system.
To be considered a white-collar job, an employee must:
- spend at least half of their time doing executive, administrative, or professional tasks,
- regularly use their independent judgment and discretion on the job, and
- earn a minimum salary at least twice as high as the applicable minimum hourly wage for full-time work.
Hospital employees who do not fall into one of these exemptions are classified as non-exempt employees.
The difference between exempt versus non-exempt classifications is significant. Non-exempt workers are protected by both federal law and state law. While the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is a federal employment law that applies across the United States and is enforced by the Department of Labor, California’s labor laws provide stronger protections to workers in the state. These protections offer:
- overtime pay,
- meal and rest breaks, and
- minimum wages.
Exempt workers do not have these same legal protections.
Is a registered nurse an exempt worker?
In California, a registered nurse is a non-exempt worker unless he or she satisfies the legal requirements for a white-collar employee and primarily engages in executive or administrative tasks.
However, registered nurses working for a public employer – including hospitals run by the state of California, a city, or a county – are exempt employees.
Do California overtime laws provide overtime pay to non-exempt workers?
Yes. Private California employers have to pay non-exempt workers overtime pay if they work more than a certain number of hours. The number of hours required, however, can change if the employee has agreed to an alternative workweek schedule.
Most nurses are entitled to overtime, unless they are classified as exempt employees.
Generally, non-exempt workers are entitled to overtime wages that are one and one-half times their regular rate of pay if they work more than:
- 8 hours in a workday,
- 40 hours in a workweek, or
- 6 days in a single workweek.
They are entitled to “double time,” or wages twice their normal hourly rate, if they work past:
- 12 hours in a single workday, or
- 8 hours for a seventh consecutive day.
What is an alternative workweek schedule under California law?
An alternative workweek schedule is an agreement between employees and their employer that alters their work schedule and their overtime hours.
These schedules allow workers to work for up to 10 hours in a workday without being entitled to an overtime rate. Employees are still entitled to overtime wages if they work:
- more than the number of hours authorized in the alternative schedule, or
- more than the standard 40-hour workweek.
Alternative workweek schedules can only be adopted if more than two-thirds of the affected employees approve them. They have to vote by secret ballot for the approval to be valid.
Unionized employees can also adopt an alternative workweek schedule through a collective bargaining agreement. That agreement can also alter the standard overtime rules.
These alternative workweek schedules are especially common in the healthcare industry, where hospital workers tend to have longer-hour shifts to meet staffing needs.
Can exempt workers earn overtime?
Neither state nor federal law forbids overtime pay for exempt employees. However, very few employers choose to provide it. Additionally, calculating daily overtime for their extra hours is more difficult for salaried employees because an exempt employee’s regular rate of pay will also include bonuses and any commission they have earned, in addition to just their hours of work.
How can I recover unpaid overtime?
California hospital workers who are not being paid overtime for their extra hours of work can file a wage and hour claim against their employer.
These lawsuits demand time-and-a-half pay for an employee’s extra work time, in compliance with California’s wage laws. They can also recover interest on the unpaid wages, as well as reasonable attorneys’ fees.
 8 California Code of Regulations 11040(1)(A).
 California Labor Code 515(f)(1) LAB.
 8 California Code of Regulations 11040(1)(B). See also Kim v. Regents of University of California, 80 Cal.App.4th 162 (2000).
 California Labor Code 510 LAB.
 California Labor Code 511 LAB.
 California Labor Code 510 LAB.