I love snow days for so many reasons, but I am particularly fond of this blizzard because I just had knee surgery and am unable to work. However, I of course have been staying informed of how my other nurses and murses are doing while manhandling the inclement weather. I worry about them commuting to and from work and I worry about the patients who need care. Although I live on the east coast, my city is not accustomed to consistent snowstorms, thus the roads are in poor condition. The governor declared a state of emergency nearly 12 hours prior to heavy snowfall and everyone was ordered to stay in their homes. Keep in mind, this blizzard has been predicted for almost a week, so state preparations started early.
After talking to my friends from different blizzard afflicted cities, as well as, my friends who work on different units in the same hospital, I am learning that management can force employees to report to work as much as three days before their scheduled shifts. To clarify, the snowing began on Friday and if a nurse is scheduled to work Saturday, Sunday or Monday night or day, the nurse manager can force the nurse to report to work. If my friends refused to stay or report to work, they were threatened with the words “patient abandonment” and told their jobs could be at risk.
Did I mention that these nurses were encouraged to report to work 24-72 hours prior to their shift WITHOUT getting paid? Some managers offer to pay their nurses “something,” but can’t give them an exact figure. On-call pay is nearly a joke for most of us and tops off at $2.00/hr. So, potentially, there could be nurses living in the hospital for minimal pay just waiting to work their shift in 24-72 hours. For the record, I would be more than willing to come to work early, but I do not think it is unfair to be compensated for my time.
So I get this, nursing care is imperative to continue the inner workings of a hospital. This is all very fascinating to me because I feel like many nurses are not recognized for their worth, however, if the possibility arises that they may be unable to report to work, all hell breaks loose.
I can guarantee I will take some slack for bringing this to the attention of others. Many veteran nurses I’m sure will say it is a nurses’ duty to report to work despite treacherous conditions and not give a thought to their pay or safety. The patients always come before the nurse. Don’t get me wrong, if there was an unexpected natural disaster or mass casualty, I would be at work to help people and wouldn’t give a thought to anything else. But, I’m talking about a blizzard that has been predicted for a week.
So why can’t hospital systems help provide transportation for their nurses and other healthcare team members or pay them like any other hourly employee? People who work for electric companies are given overtime wages during inclement weather, state employees who maintain the roads are paid overtime, even internet technicians receive overtime pay for outages. Therefore, I feel like requesting full-time pay AT THE LEAST, for a nurse who is living in a hospital during a blizzard is nothing short of logical. Ideally, the nurse should be paid over-time for every hour past 40 hours that he or she spends in the hospital. Whether the nurse is actively providing patient care or sleeping on an air mattress before her next shift, each hour should be considered an hour of work.
Several states have laws that protect employees from working for free. Connecticut has an “hours worked” regulation that states “all time during which an employee is required to be on call for emergency service at a location designated by the employer shall be considered to be working time” regardless of whether the employee is called to work (read about this law here). Some states also have laws regarding on-call pay and “reporting time” obligations.
Regarding on-call time, the Department of Labor distinguishes the difference between “on-call time” and “working while on-call” as:
“An employee who is required to remain on call on the employer’s premises or so close to the premises that the employee cannot use the time effectively for his or her own purpose is considered working while on-call. An employee who is required to carry a cell phone, or a beeper, or who is allowed to leave a message where he or she can be reached is not working (in most cases) while on-call. Additional constraints on the employee’s freedom could require this time to be compensated” (DOL).
Therefore, a nurse being required to live on the hospital premises should be paid a full-time or over-time wage (if warranted) for every, single hour of work. No exceptions.
Only a few states have “reporting time” obligations. This means, if the employer calls the nurse into work and sends them home 30 minutes later, the nurse is entitled to a minimum amount of pay (Ex: 4 hours). This is particularly helpful for nurses who commute in inclement weather situations and nurses who work on unpredictable units (reporting time).
I want to talk about this issue for multiple reasons. One, I feel this is just another way administration strips nurses of their rights. But, most importantly, I feel nurses need to stand up for themselves and not chastise each other for requesting payment for their valuable time and talents. I see some nurses passive aggressively posting status updates on Facebook thanking their counterparts for coming into the hospital–no questions asked and diminishing the importance of nurses who choose to stay home. Why does questioning the morality of fair wages deserve persecution? Last time I checked we aren’t indentured servants.
I have heard asinine suggestions given to my nurse friends by management of how and why they should get to work. One of my friends was told to start shoveling herself to the nearest main road so she could get there, which for her was a half-mile away. These suggestions are all coming during a declared state of emergency and blizzard conditions. Other friends have even been asked to leave their homes at 1100 for a shift that begins at 1900, and if they arrived safely, work all night. I have also heard the proposition that fellow nurses should volunteer to drive their team members to work and put themselves at risk without pay, once again. These requests from management are all with disregard to the safety of their employee. For a blizzard that was predicted, in cities where the hospital systems own nearly every square block, is it ridiculous to request the hospital system find a way to transport the nurses to work?
I want to close this piece by stating that I have noticed nurses becoming victims of ridicule and lateral violence for failing to risk their lives to get to work or refusing to work for free. In no way, shape or form does this make them less honorable or capable. I am not an expert lawyer nor do I believe these experiences are the same for every nurse. Also, I am thankful for the nurses who were able to get to work today, but I believe they deserve compensation for their work. Additionally, I do not diminish the work of the veteran nurses who came before me. If it were not for them, I would not be in my current position. I am simply encouraging nurses to check the laws for their state and hospital policies and realize that their talents are irreplaceable. Nurses deserve to be paid for every hour of work and should be entitled to safe transportation in blizzard conditions. So to my fellow nurses, do not be afraid to question management and hospital policy, which may need to be reformed. Holding administration accountable is more than reasonable considering they will do the exact same thing to you.