Off The Clock

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about working off-time:

I work as an infusion room nurse in a small but very busy clinic. Our staff seldom has time or coverage for lunch and taking a 10-minute break is also a luxury we do not get. Yet we are still required to clock out for 1/2-hour lunch and document false breaks. We’re burnt out. What to do?

Signed, Burnt Out

DearĀ Burnt Out:

You and your staff are working off the clock and you need lunch and 10 to 15 minute breaks. The pressure of your job is intense and apparently your supervisor has insisted that you work during clocked-out time. That’s illegal with few exceptions. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), employers are required to keep records indicating the wages and hours, and working off the clock is subject to prosecution.FLSA regulations stipulate that overtime hours worked must be paid at a rate of at least one and one-half times the employee’s regular pay. Hourly employees may be granted a lunch or other meal period that is unpaid and of a non-work status. This period is usually at least 30 minutes in length. During unpaid meal periods, the employee must be completely relieved of all duties and free to leave the duty post. Rest periods may go unpaid is if an employee extends his/her break beyond the amount of time authorized. Only salaried workers in administrative, executive and professional jobs are exempt from overtime; the law does not require their hours on the job to be recorded. Pressure is intense to get more out of hourly workers in both small and large established companies. The demand for off the clock labor has crept more and more into the ranks of big business, even professional medical facilities, such as your clinic. In the past few years the Federal Government has taken action against companies like T Mobile, Wal-Mart and Radio Shack, but I have not heard of action against hospital organizations. Two references can be accessed on the Internet:

*Forced to Work Off the Clock, Some Fight Back (The New York Times)

*9 to 5 National Association of Working Women.

According to FLSA, even to a non-lawyer, it is evident that your supervisor is wrong to require those in your workgroup “to clock out forĀ  1/2 hour lunch and document false breaks.” That is cheating you to advantage your employer. I don’t think your Personnel Officer or Human Resources Manager would approve of this if it were brought to his/her/their attention. So you can bite your tongue or speak up, not angrily, but firmly.Is not more going on wrong than requiring you to work overtime and not get paid?

“Burnt out” or even half burned out indicates a hurried and harried work life. Sure your staff should know how to get tasks completed efficiently and more importantly completed effectively. But that can best be accomplished in a harmonious and pleasant atmosphere. Labor unions not only were organized because some employers required their hires to work long hours and in unsafe conditions, but also because they pressured them to work faster that reasonable. If you have a union, it should investigate the tasks and number of persons required to do quality work in your work unit and clinic. If you do not have a union, most likely your professional association has prepared guidelines that can be accessed in a journal or the Internet.It is past time for your staff to call Time Out to consider how you might diagnose and prescribe the burnt out symptoms in your workgroup. This will not happen until and unless someone of you do more than complain about being required to work off the clock. You must approach this as a matter of improving the quality of your work and working relationship. It is never too late to review who does what and how they might make each others’ job easier and more effective. That means cutting wasted supplies, duplication, time, and energy.

Teamwork. Teamwork. Teamwork does not happen without skull sessions; frequent timeout sessions, weekly and sometimes daily, to collectively engage each other on what is required to communicate and cooperate in a winning workplace. If these thoughts make sense or at least prompt you and your coworkers to huddle and engage those who shape policy, I predict that you will come to have a workplace that is exciting and challenging rather than burnt out. You then will know that working together with hands, head and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. I do not expect changing the way things are will be easy. It will take courage to speak up effectively and to persist. If this change cannot be achieved by working with your supervisor, you might have to go the manager of your clinic or to the larger corporation that owns the clinic.Will you keep us posted?

Follow-Up: While the advice and suggestions you have given are all valid that has not been any help. (Not that that is what I expected) I do understand all the legal issues that are involved but the clinic I work for is a huge corporation with 4 satelite clinics, (one of which I work in). There have been numerous complaints filed against this company but to no avail. I love what do. I only wish there was more of me to go around. Next Thursday we have 25 patients to get chemo, in a room that has 5 chairs, and two nurses, including me. I believe it is not only unfair to the patients, but also dangerous. But I stick with it and do my best as I cannot let them down. What DO YOU THINK OF THAT???????????

Dear Over-Worked: Your only solution is to just be a good guy or gal and to allow your corporate bosses to continue to over-work you. That is the solution you have and are accepting. Right? Wrong! The choice that you are not taking is to put your complaint in writing to corporate headquarters and also declare that if you don’t get relief, you will report this to a labor attorney. In short, to professionally be assertive. You also can choose to forcefully make the case for a more reasonable work load. Your corporation is making big money and it can afford to hire the personnel needed, but it will not until and unless you say, NO MORE! Sure you care about the patients, but do you care enough to speak up for both them and yourself? Do keep us posted even if you don’t like my advice.

William Gorden