Unpaid wages have a way of destroying your motivation and causing irreparable harm to your personal finances. Not being paid for work is disturbingly common in the nursing industry in California, and when nurses lose their wages in this state, they can quickly lose everything else that they have. If your employer has failed to pay you the wages you deserve, however, you aren’t without legal recourse; the experienced unpaid wages lawyers at Stop Unpaid Wages can work with you to receive the paychecks and justice that you deserve.
What Are Unpaid Wages?
Whenever your employer refuses to pay you for time you’ve worked, the funds you would have received are considered to be unpaid wages. There are a variety of reasons why wages you feel that you’re deserved may be unpaid, and not all of them are the fault of your employer. For instance, if you feel that you are owed wages that aren’t covered in your contract, it’s more likely that you’ve made a mistake than your employer is withholding wages.
In addition, if state or federal law forbids certain types of wages from being paid, it’s possible that the content of your contract is incorrect or you have a misunderstanding with your employer. If, however, your contract dictates that you should receive wages and all pertinent legal statutes agree, it’s likely that your employer has withheld wages that you are rightfully owed.
Depending on the circumstances, you may be able to take legal action to receive wages that you are owed but that you have not received. In some cases, on the other hand, it may be possible to receive your unpaid wages by engaging in a simple conversation with your employer. The only way to know how to proceed in a situation in which your wages are unpaid is to consult with a seasoned lawyer who understands the ins and outs of unpaid wage law in California.
What Is the Impact of Unpaid Wages?
When you enter into a contract with an employer, one of your primary expectations is that you will be provided a certain amount of compensation on a set schedule. While expectations of workplace safety and comfort are also usually felt by new employees, most workers in the nursing industry and elsewhere are chiefly concerned about when they will be paid and how big their paychecks will be.
Based on your contract with your employer, you may plan ahead regarding which expenses you’ll be able to undertake at which times. While it’s always best to have a cushion in your savings account to get you through unforeseen circumstances, not everyone has this luxury, and many individuals in the nursing industry live paycheck-to-paycheck.
Due to your financial situation, you may be required to continue to fulfill your duties as a nurse even though you aren’t getting paid what you deserve. This harsh reality can introduce unnecessary stress into your professional life, and it can also cause you to lose your sense of self-worth that you enjoy as a competent medical professional.
If you lose even a single paycheck, you may suddenly find yourself unable to pay your rent or mortgage. You may also be unable to afford food at the grocery store, and you may be forced to file for food stamps or another welfare program. Your phone bills may go unpaid, your electricity bill may become overdue, and even your ability to have water pumped to your home may be in jeopardy.
What Types of Nurses Are There in California?
Before you learn how to receive unpaid wages you are owed as a nurse, it’s important to understand how different types of nursing careers can affect the way that nurses are paid. Certain types of nursing careers require more education than others, and depending on the type of nurse you are, you may get paid via a variety of different structures. While there are nearly a dozen different types of nursing professions in California, we’ll cover the two most common types of nurse certifications and explain how payment structures differ for each type of nurse:
- Registered Nurse (RN): Most nurses in the state of California are registered nurses. To become a registered nurse, an aspiring medical practitioner must receive a bachelor’s degree in nursing or complete an associate degree program (ASN). Depending on the type of path that is chosen, lower or higher-paying work may be offered. RNs in California are paid significantly more than RNs in other parts of the country: An average RN in this state makes about $50 per hour after a few years of experience on the job. However, as we will cover later in the article, receiving due payment as an RN is sometimes harder than it seems.
- Nurse Practitioner (NP): To become a nurse practitioner (NP), an aspiring medical professional will need to receive a bachelor’s degree in nursing and complete nursing graduate school. To compensate for this increased education requirement, NPs are paid considerably more than RNs: The average NP in California is paid around $80 per hour after a few years of experience. Contrary to popular belief, NPs do not receive a yearly salary. Just like RNs, they are paid by the hour, which can cause some serious problems in the payroll department. Because they go through so much schooling and are so adept at what they do, NPs may be considered to be “professionals” under certain federal laws.
In a worst case scenario, your employer’s withholding of your rightfully-earned pay may cause you to lose your home, your car, and even your dignity. When you sign a contract to begin work, it’s natural to have a number of reasonable expectations, and when these expectations are unreasonably denied, you might end up being left out in the cold.
How Do California Overtime Laws Affect Nurses?
In 2005, the Fifth Circuit of Appeals finally addressed a growing issue in the nursing industry in the United States. In the landmark case Belt v. EmCare, Inc., the court declared that nursing staff were no longer exempt from being provided overtime pay. For decades prior, certain types of nurses had been considered exempt from receiving overtime pay because they were commonly regarded as “professional” employees.
Under the Fair Labor Standard Overtime Laws (FLSA), certain types of professionals are not eligible to receive overtime pay. For instance, most lawyers and physicians are not eligible to receive this type of compensation because they work on a salary basis that, in theory, incorporates this potential for overtime work into the agreed-upon wages stipulated in the salary contract.
However, many hospitals and other medical care providers had gone so far as to consider nurse practitioners as “professionals” under the FLSA since these medical professionals are practically on-par with physicians due to their advanced schooling. This perception of NPs, however, made them exempt from overtime pay, which was unfair since NPs are most commonly paid by the hour in California and other states.
Finally fed up with not getting the payment she deserved, an NP named June Belt sued her hospital system under the FLSA on behalf of herself and all of the other nurses who found themselves in similar positions. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals eventually found that since NPs are not licensed medical practitioners, it would be necessary for these medical professionals to be paid yearly salaries to be considered “professionals” under the FLSA.
Under this ruling, all NPs are owed overtime pay of 1.5 times the hourly wage for any time they work outside of the normal 40 hour work week by federal law. However, Belt v. EmCare Inc. does not apply to certain advanced practice nurses working in California. For instance, certified nurse midwives, certified nurse anesthetists, and certified nurse practitioners are still considered “professionals” under California law.
This exemption from overtime is only applied to advanced practice nurses who meet a salary test that ensures that they receive an adequate hourly salary to make up for their lack of overtime pay. In addition, California law also provides that advanced practice nurses can only be considered “professionals” if they exercise independent judgment in the performance of their duties.
What does all this mean for nurses in California? Despite Belt v. EmCare Inc., most NPs in California are still exempt from overtime pay. Other nurses, however, such as RNs, are entitled to overtime pay if they work more than 40 hours per week. If you are not an advanced practice nurse and you’ve been denied overtime pay, you may be able to take legal action to receive the wages you’re owed.
When Do Nurses Not Receive Their Wages?
There are a variety of reasons why a hospital system or another medical business may withhold wages from a nurse in California. The following are a few examples of the reasons why nurses may be denied their rightful wages, and some of these unpaid wage scenarios may be resolvable with legal action:
- Unpaid breaks are interrupted by work duties: In many cases, nurses in the state of California are provided with both paid and unpaid breaks. Most paid breaks consist of brief respites from work that last 15 minutes or less, and unpaid breaks are usually offered for lunch periods and other longer periods of off time throughout the work day.
Many nurses are prohibited from leaving the premises of their hospital or other medical institution during these paid breaks to ensure that they will be available in case an emergency occurs. It’s common for RNs, NPs, and other types of nurses in California to be called back to work during their unpaid breaks, and while it’s great to be of service when crunch time hits, many nurses end up with bad tastes in their mouth over the way they are treated under these circumstances.
Even though they are working, it’s common for nurses to not be compensated for work that they perform during their unpaid breaks. Hospital management teams may use complicated policies and paperwork to exploit their nurses in this way, and while it’s usually no big deal if this kind of thing happens once or twice, some hospitals routinely abuse their nursing staff with this type of ruse. If you’ve routinely been denied pay for nursing work that you’ve done during your unpaid break, it might be time to consult with an attorney to determine means by which you can receive adequate compensation for your labors.
- Work done before or after a shift isn’t counted: Anyone who has ever spent any time working in a hospital understands that this type of job environment is anything but calm and predictable. In fact, hospitals can often get quite chaotic, and it’s up to the nursing staff to keep the boat steady and provide treatment that may be the determining factor between life and death.
In some cases, nurses are called onto the job before their shift officially starts, and they may also be required to stay after their work day has ended to tend to emergency situations. While every RN and NP wants to be there to provide help when it’s needed, it’s only natural to want to be compensated for your efforts.
However, some hospital systems deny nurses payment for work that they perform outside of their usual shifts. There are a number of reasons given for this denial of payment, and this unfortunate circumstance may sometimes be the fault of the nurse if he or she failed to accurately perform the duties required under contract. On the other hand, hospitals are notorious for hiding behind red tape to deny their nurses agreed-upon pay, and if you feel that you have been exploited in this way, your only recourse may be to work with an attorney who can help you file a lawsuit against your hospital.
- Nurses on call aren’t paid: Being on call is an important part of being a nurse; if an emergency strikes, you’ll be ready at a moment’s notice to step in and help your fellow hospital staff resolve the situation. However, time spent on call is time spent working, and it’s natural to want to be paid for this aspect of your duties.
An unethical hospital, however, may try to get around its duties to its staff by failing to pay nurses who are on call. While the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals determined that nurses who are on call do not need to be paid minimum wage or higher, this ruling doesn’t apply if your contract stipulates otherwise. If you haven’t been paid for time that you’ve spent on call and you’re unsure as to whether or not payment is owed, get in touch with a lawyer to help you parse out your situation.
- Failing to provide overtime opportunities: In response to the federal ruling that some types of nurses must be paid for overtime work, some hospitals may choose to avoid giving their nurses opportunities to go over their 40-hour-per-week limit. One of the oldest tricks in the book for avoiding overtime pay is called the “alternative work week,” and this principle may or may not apply in your situation.
Most California employers must provide their employees with overtime pay if they work more than eight hours in a single day. Hospitals and other businesses in the health care field, however, may be found exempt from this condition if they follow certain rules laid down by the state.
The rules for implementing an alternative work week scheme in a hospital, however, are relatively stringent, and if your hospital isn’t following these rules by the letter of the law, it may be illegal for them to avoid paying you overtime for work days that last longer than eight hours. Consult with a lawyer to learn whether or not you might be eligible to receive compensation under this premise.
- Using the “professional” excuse: As we’ve already covered, certain types of nurses, such as NPs, are considered to be “professionals” under California law, and they are exempt from overtime pay. However, most hospital staff are not considered to be “professionals,” and if an RN is denied overtime pay, this action may be deemed illegal.
In 2016, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) updated its rules on overtime pay to make it so that workers who are paid up to $47,476 per year must receive pay for any amount of time they work beyond their regular work period. While many nurses in California may make more than this minimum, this legislation isn’t the only reason why nurses in this state might be entitled to overtime pay. To work out the details of your situation, get in touch with a qualified lawyer today.
What Is an Unpaid Wage Claim?
A wage claim is a claim filed by an employee who feels that he or she has been denied rightful pay. These claims are filed with the California Labor Commissioner’s office, and filing this type of claim is usually the first step that an unpaid wage law office will make when attempting to secure unpaid wages for their client.
Unpaid wage claims are only considered valid when they are submitted within a certain time frame:
- Within one year for situations in which a nurse is denied access to payroll records or a paycheck bounces
- Within two years when an oral promise is provided to pay a nurse more than the minimum wage
- Within three years for any violations of overtime, unpaid breaks, minimum wage, or a variety of other forms of wage theft
- Within four years if a nurse is provided with a written contract that is then breached
While it’s possible to file an unpaid wage claim with the Labor Commissioner’s office directly, it’s best to work with a lawyer to put together all of the information you’ll need to present to give your wage claim a chance to succeed. It will be necessary to acquire detailed information on your employer, provide a complete record of all of your hours worked for the company, and offer copies of all of your pay stubs, and the logistical work involved in this process can quickly become overwhelming. If you don’t receive the help of a seasoned attorney when you submit your wage claim, you could experience a major setback in your efforts.
What If an Unpaid Wage Claim Fails?
Unpaid wage claims aren’t always successful. If your current or former employer resists your efforts to receive unpaid wages through the established channels, it may be necessary to file a lawsuit. This type of litigation is a very complicated matter, and it will be absolutely necessary to hire qualified legal representation if you want to make sure that your lawsuit ends up providing a favorable result.
If you aren’t adequately represented, your employer could turn the tables on you and demand compensation even if you’re in the right. On the other hand, if your lawsuit is successful, you stand to gain much more than just your unpaid wages; if the court determines that your wages have been stolen, it may require that your employer pay you a significant sum in damages.
In some cases, it may make the most sense to begin the process of seeking compensation from your employer with a lawsuit. Filing an unpaid wage claim may be pointless or even detrimental to your cause.
Find a Qualified Unpaid Wages Lawyer Near Me
When you’ve been denied the wages you’re owed as a nurse in California, the only way to unravel the tangled web of legislation surrounding this subject is to work with a lawyer who understands the complexity of wage denial. Here at Stop Unpaid Wages, we work with nurses throughout California, and we do our best to provide the results that will keep you financially stable and provide the feeling of justice you’re looking for. To get started, give us a call at 424-781-8411 today!