Most nurses do get paid overtime. They are entitled to 1.5 times their regular rate of pay for every hour they work past 40 hours in a 7-day period. However, some nurses – especially registered nurses – may be considered exempt employees. These nurses are generally not entitled to overtime pay, no matter how many hours they work in a week.
Do nurses make overtime pay?
Nurses can get paid for overtime if they are non-exempt employees. Under federal law, if a nurse is non-exempt, he or she is entitled to at least 1.5 times their regular rate of pay or hourly wage for every hour worked above 40 in a workweek.
Some states have labor laws that provide more extensive rights for nurses.
When are nurses non-exempt?
The Fair Labor Standards Act, or FLSA, is a federal law that governs employment exemptions and overtime wages for workers all across the country. Some states, including California, have their own labor laws that provide additional protections for workers in their state.
The FLSA classifies employees as either:
- exempt employees, or
- non-exempt employees.
Exempt employees are workers who are exempted from the FLSA’s overtime and minimum wage laws. These workers are not entitled to overtime pay, no matter how many hours they work in a given workweek.
Regulations by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) determine when someone is exempt or not. The employer’s classification of a worker does not control the outcome. A job is only exempt if it passes 1 of the following 5 tests:
- executive test,
- administrative test,
- learned professional test,
- outside sales test, or
- computer test.
The learned professional test, also known as the professional exemption, is the most common test used for nurses who work in hospitals or elsewhere in the healthcare system. For a job to be exempt under the learned professional test, all of the following must be true:
- the worker is paid at least $684 per week ($35,568 per year) in salary or on a fee basis,
- the employee’s primary duty is to perform work that requires advanced knowledge, meaning that it is predominantly intellectual and requires the consistent exercise of discretion and judgment,
- the advanced knowledge is in a field of science or learning, and
- the advanced knowledge is usually acquired by an advanced degree or specialized coursework.1
States can have their own labor laws that alter these tests. Some states have rules that specifically govern nurses and registered nurses.
What is overtime?
Under the FLSA, overtime pay of at least one-and-a-half times the regular rate of pay is required for hours of work in excess of 40 hours in a given workweek. The regular rate of pay is often the employee’s hourly rate. A workweek is 7 consecutive 24-hour periods.
For nurses, this means that a 12-hour shift does not, alone, entitle them to extra pay for overtime hours. If nurses work 3 straight 12-hour shifts, they would still not be entitled to overtime under the FLSA.
However, these overtime rules do not apply to every worker. As their name implies, exempt workers are exempted from these rules.
Additionally, some states do not define overtime the same way that the FLSA does.
In California, for example, overtime is defined as work:
- in excess of an 8-hour workday, or a 10-hour workday for alternative workweeks of 4 days, or a 12-hour day in a 3-day alternative workweek,
- in excess of 40 hours in a workweek, or
- on a 6th consecutive day in a workweek.2
Additionally, California provides for double-time, or twice the regular rate of pay, if the number of hours worked is in excess of:
- 12 hours in a single workday, or
- the 8th hour on the 7th consecutive day in a workweek.3
These extra protections for healthcare workers are meant to push employers into fixing staffing issues that contribute to mandatory overtime and long hours. By making healthcare facilities pay premiums for employees who work overtime, these laws incentivize hiring new nurse practitioners. Whether healthcare providers hire full-time or part-time help, it will reduce nurse overtime and increase patient care.
Can registered nurses make overtime?
Registered nurses, or RNs, are generally considered to be exempt employees under the FLSA. This means that RNs cannot make overtime. However, some states have labor laws that explicitly overrule this aspect of federal law.
According to the FLSA, registered nurses who are registered by the state examining board will generally meet the requirements to make them learned professionals under the law.4 This exempts them from overtime and minimum wage rules and keeps them from earning overtime pay.
However, some states have employment laws that specifically address registered nurses.
In California, for example, state overtime laws generally make registered nurses non-exempt employees. RNs there are only considered exempt if they satisfy the administrative test or the executive test for exemptions.5
What about other healthcare professionals?
Most non-registered nurses will not pass an exemption test. If these nurses are still non-exempt, they can earn overtime pay. This generally covers:
- licensed practical nurses, or LPNs,
- certified nurse assistants, or CNAs,
- physical therapy assistants, and
- nurse practitioners.